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Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America's Founding Fathersby Michael Barone
Synopses & Reviews
The ideals of freedom and individual rights that inspired Americas Founding Fathers did not spring from a vacuum. Along with many other defining principles of our national character, they can be traced directly back to one of the most pivotal events in British historythe late-seventeenth-century uprising known as the Glorious Revolution.
In a work of popular history that stands with recent favorites such as David McCulloughs 1776 and Joseph J. Elliss Founding Brothers, Michael Barone brings the story of this unlikely and largely bloodless revolt to American readers and reveals that, without the Glorious Revolution, the American Revolution may never have happened.
Unfolding in 1688–1689, Britains Glorious Revolution resulted in the hallmarks of representative government, guaranteed liberties, the foundations of global capitalism, and a foreign policy of opposing aggressive foreign powers. But as Barone shows, there was nothing inevitable about the Glorious Revolution. It sprang from the character of the English people and depended on the talents, audacity, and good luck of two men: William of Orange (later William III of England), who launched historys last successful cross-channel inva sion, and John Churchill, an ancestor of Winston, who commanded the forces of the deposed James II but crossed over to support William one fateful November night.
The story of the Glorious Revolution is a rich and riveting saga of palace intrigue, loyalty and shocking betrayal, and bold political and military strategizing. With narrative drive, a sure command of historical events, and unforgettable portraits of kings, queens, soldiers, parliamentarians, and a large cast of full-blooded characters, Barone takes an episode that has fallen into unjustified obscurity and restores it to the prominence it deserves. Especially now, as we face enemies who wish to rid the world of the lasting legacies of the Glorious Revolutiondemocracy, individual rights, and capitalism among themit is vitally important that we understand the origins of these blessings.
"Political journalist and historian Barone (Hard America, Soft America) elucidates the template for America's independence movement in this well-written history of its forerunner: England's Glorious Revolution of 1688. The author describes the origins of the revolution, a mostly bloodless change of government, as a mixture of religious, political and diplomatic factors. King James II's Roman Catholicism, hostility to Parliament, and French sympathies alienated an increasing number of his powerful subjects including John Churchill, later Duke of Marlborough, who invited Dutch Stadtholder William of Orange and his wife, Mary, James's sister, to intervene. Among the revolution's consequences was a Bill of Rights that limited the monarch's powers and strengthened representative government. A Toleration Act encouraged variant forms of Protestant worship. The creation of a funded national debt and the foundation of the Bank of England laid the groundwork for financial development. Involvement in the long series of wars with France moved England from a country standing apart from Europe to one that took responsibility for maintaining a continental balance of power. It was a Glorious Revolution indeed that laid the political groundwork for the world in which we now live, and Barone's lucid work honors its heritage." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Voltaire dismissed the Holy Roman Empire as not holy, Roman or an empire. Historians have long given a similar back of the hand to England's Glorious Revolution of the 1680s. It was glorious, they asserted, mostly in avoiding mass bloodshed, and compared to later revolutions in France, Russia and China, it wasn't much of a revolution. Michael Barone disagrees. The change in English government... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) as a result of the events of 1688-89 was not simply astonishing on its own terms, he argues, but pregnant with consequences for the English-speaking world. Barone is a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report, a longtime co-author of the 'Almanac of American Politics' and an occasional historian of recent American public life. In his current book he digs three centuries into the English past to unearth the roots of contemporary political practice on the Western side of the Atlantic — the 'Our' of his title refers to us Americans. Some of the digging is not for the easily distracted. To motivate his main story, Barone traces the turbulent politics of mid-17th-century England, France and what became the Netherlands. It's a complicated era, just similar enough to our own to be misleading, and the careless reader risks getting overwhelmed. Thankfully, Barone entices us forward with such tidbits as that Tangerines were veterans of military service in Tangiers before they were little oranges, and that the difference between local time in London and Paris was once measured in days, 10 in the 1680s, because England refused to update its calendar. Once Barone reaches his actual starting mark, the story snaps along. 'A young Prince borne, which will cause disputes,' he quotes a diarist of June 1688. The arrival of the heir was crucial, for the fate of England hung on the issue of issue — namely whether Catholic king James II would be succeeded by a Catholic son or daughter. Religious wars had convulsed Europe for most of the century and a half since the start of the Protestant Reformation; in England the religious disputes had triggered a regicide, a civil war and several lesser eruptions of violence. Protestants insisted on observing the royal birth, suspecting that Queen Mary Beatrice wasn't really pregnant and that a surrogate would be smuggled under the bedclothes. Their attendance hardly settled the case. '"Tis possible it may be her child,' conceded James' estranged daughter Anne. 'But where one believes it, a thousand do not.' The prospect of another Catholic king inspired a small group of Protestant worthies — the Immortal Seven, their admirers called them — to commit treason against James by inviting William of Orange, the husband of James' daughter Mary, to invade England and seize the throne. William responded by mounting the last successful invasion of England. John Churchill, James' military commander, deserted his patron and defected to William. 'I am actuated by a higher principle,' Churchill wrote in a letter he left for James: to wit, 'the inviolable dictates of my conscience, and a necessary concern for religion.' (Churchill neglected to explain why his conscience hadn't troubled him before William arrived.) Thus William assumed the throne, ruling jointly with Mary. Yet he did so under constraints negotiated with the political brokers who invited him from the Netherlands. These restrictions constituted the 'revolutionary"' aspect of what otherwise would have been a coup d'etat: In an age of absolutism elsewhere, the English monarch would defer to Parliament on key questions. A Bill of Rights ensured basic liberties to Englishmen, and the principle of self-government took what Barone rightly calls a 'giant step forward.' Barone detects even larger consequences. The settlement of 1689, by marrying Dutch business sense to emerging English constitutionalism, laid the foundation for the 18th-century expansion of the British empire. An offshoot of that empire became the United States of America, whose founders wrapped themselves in the mantle of the Glorious Revolution. The 1689 settlement also fortified Britain to balance what Barone calls the 'hegemonic power' of absolutist, then revolutionary, and finally Napoleonic France. The hegemonic label is important to Barone, in that he traces the effects of the Glorious Revolution into the 20th century and beyond. The United States, he argues, was the continuing heir of the 1689 settlement, its growing strength undergirded by the same elements of law and commerce that had built the British empire. Americans eventually adopted the anti-hegemonic philosophy pursued by William and his English successors. Barone takes pleasure in noting the historical symmetry in the anti-hegemonic — that is, anti-German — alliance of the United States and Britain during World War II, the former led by the Dutchman Franklin Roosevelt, the latter by John Churchill's descendant Winston. He might have noted something else. Barone asks what the world would have been like had the United States not acquired the habit of opposing 'tyrannical hegemonic powers,' and he proceeds to list among the bad guys Louis XIV, Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Hitler, Stalin and 'the terrorists of Osama bin Laden and the mullahs of Iran.' Leaving aside that Osama and the mullahs are hardly in the same geopolitical league as Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin, Barone might have mentioned how long it took the United States to reach the stage of peaceful self-government, and how many people died — in the American Civil War, most conspicuously — getting there. At a time when the present administration remains committed to establishing democracy in Iraq, the most important lesson of American political history may be that democracy doesn't come easily. William of Orange and John Churchill spared England a war in the 1680s; America in the 1860s wasn't so lucky, and neither is Iraq now. H.W. Brands is the author of 'The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin.'" Reviewed by H.W. Brands, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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Barone shines a light on the event that made possible the blessings of freedom and prosperity Americans know today. It all started with the English--and the pivotal, largely bloodless upheaval known as the Glorious Revolution.
About the Author
MICHAEL BARONE is a senior writer with U.S. News & World Report and a contributor to Fox News Channel. He is the principal coauthor of the biannual Almanac of American Politics and the author of Our Country, The New Americans, and Hard America, Soft America.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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