Synopses & Reviews
An important new interpretation of the American colonists 150-year struggle to achieve independence
“What do we mean by the Revolution?” John Adams asked Thomas Jefferson in 1815. “The war? That was no part of the Revolution. It was only an effect and consequence of it.” As the distinguished historian Thomas P. Slaughter shows in this landmark history, the roots of the Revolution went back even further than Adams may have realized.
In Slaughters account, colonists in British North America starting in the early seventeenth century chafed under imperial rule. Though successive British kings called them lawless, they insisted on their moral courage and political principles, and regarded their independence as a great virtue. Their struggles to define this independence took many forms: from New England and Nova Scotia to New York and Pennsylvania and south to the Carolinas, colonists resisted unsympathetic royal governors, smuggled to evade British duties, and organized for armed uprisings.
In the eighteenth century—especially after victories over France—the British were eager to crush these rebellions, but American opposition only intensified. In Independence, Slaughter resets and clarifies the terms of this remarkable development, showing how and why a critical mass of colonists determined that they could not be both independent and subject to the British Crown. By 1775-76, they had become revolutionaries—willing to go to war to defend their independence, not simply to gain it.
"Only bold historians will attempt one-volume histories of the American Revolution's origins; Slaughter brings his off brilliantly. Rarely, if ever, has this history been told with such graceful readability, freshness, and clarity. It's mostly narrative history, with Slaughter, a biographer and historian of American naturalists and the early republic, avoiding academic arguments while introducing some of the latest academic perspectives. The major one is to place the coming of the Revolution in its world-historical context and show how colonial events were linked to developments in India, Europe, and elsewhere. Slaughter's principal interpretive scheme is to show how the colonies had become separate from Britain long before becoming independent. But this organizing theme is applied lightly and never intrudes on the hard-to-put-down tale, filled with apt quotations and captivating human portraits. If there's a limitation to the book, it's Slaughter's conventional top-down approach. Yes, those who rioted in Boston and dumped tea into Boston Harbor play their necessary roles here. But overall, the author too much slights the common people's part in bringing on independence, then war; and colonial society is absent from the scene. Nevertheless, as a political, event-filled history of its subject, this masterful work is unsurpassed. Maps. (June) " Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Thomas P. Slaughter is the author of The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman, Apostle of Abolition (Hill and Wang, 2008) and four other books. He is the Arthur R. Miller Professor at the University of Rochester and the editor of Reviews in American History.