The Challenge of the American Revolution
Edmund S. Morgan
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This volume presents an eminent historian's progress over thirty years in trying to understand the American Revolution. Here is the historian at his best—beginning with the assumption that things are not always as they appear to be, delighting in the discovery of the previously unknown, and offering new interpretations with style, wit, and the good sense to know that there are always more questions to be answered.
The Revolution is fertile ground for the historian's craft, as these essays attest. Edmund S. Morgan discovers in American protests against British taxation an affirmation of rights that the colonists adhered to with surprising consistency, and that guided them ultimately to independence. Then, after a general reassessment of the importance of the Revolution, he moves to a study of it as an intellectual movement, which challenged the best minds of the period to transform their political world. Next, in studying the ethical basis of the Revolution, Morgan traces the shaping of national consciousness by puritanical attitudes toward work and leisure. This leads him to an exploration of the paradoxical relationship between slavery and freedom, and the role their relationship played in the Revolution. Finally, thinking about the Revolution on its anniversary, Morgan looks once again at the Founding Fathers and the innovative daring, admiring most their ability to reject what had hitherto been taken for granted.
Edwards, the most brilliant theologian the country ever produced, had already generated a minor awakening of his own at Northampton, Massachusetts, six years before the Great Awakening. By comparison with Whitefield his technique was muted: he talked almost in a monotone, and never resorted to dramatic gestures, but when he spoke of eternal torments in as matter-of-fact a manner as he spoke of the weather, the effect on a New England audience could be devastating. Observing the beneficial effects
activities of other merchants in and out of Congress that he wrote in despair in 1779: “Reduce us all to poverty and cut off or wisely restrict that bane of patriotism, Commerce, and we shall soon become Patriots, but how hard is it for a rich or covetous Man to enter heartily into the Kingdom of Patriotism?”62 When Congress voted what Laurens considered too high salaries for the secretaries of its ministry abroad and elected Laurens’s son to one of these positions, Laurens protested and informed
against Spain, and govern them in the English manner.30 Raleigh also dreamt of a similar colony in the country he named Virginia. Hakluyt helped him plan it.31 And Drake stood ready to supply Negroes and Indians, liberated from Spanish tyranny in the Caribbean, to help the enterprise.32 Virginia from the beginning was conceived not only as a haven for England’s suffering poor, but as a spearhead of English liberty in an oppressed world. That was the dream; but when it began to materialize at
social benefits of an enslaved labor force, even if not consciously sought or recognized at the time by the men who bought the slaves, were larger than the economic benefits. The increase in the importation of slaves was matched by a decrease in the importation of indentured servants and consequently a decrease in the dangerous number of new freedmen who annually emerged seeking a place in society that they would be unable to achieve.69 If Africans had been unavailable, it would probably have
1874), 35–145. For other years casual estimates survive. In February 1627/8 Francis West said that 1,000 had been “lately receaved.” Colonial Office Group, Class 1, Piece 4, folio 109 (Public Record Office, London). Hereafter cited CO 1/4, f.109. In February 1633/4 Governor John Harvey said that “this yeares newcomers” had been 1,200. Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, VIII (1900–1901), 155. Captain Thomas Yong reported in July 1634 that 1,500 had arrived “this yeare.” Yong to Sir Tobie