The Huffington Post has a sneak peek.
Category Archives: American Revolution
Ann Coulter must have a real beef against popular uprisings. Last fall we looked at a column in which she argued that mass upheaval ran against the grain of American history. Now she’s contrasting the radical, bloody, atheistic French Revolution with our law-abiding, orderly, religious one.
I think she’s correct to draw the distinction. In many ways, the American and French Revolutions were qualitatively different. But I would quibble with her over a few points.For one thing, when the French Revolution did erupt, it was pretty popular among large segments of the American population. After all, the Democratic-Republican Societies openly celebrated Bastille Day, and cheering crowds greeted Citizen Genêt when he arrived in the U.S. One reason for this enthusiasm was the Republicans’ conviction that the French Revolution was part of the same movement begun in 1776, a conviction embraced by their spiritual figurehead, Thomas Jefferson.
Second, let me reiterate something I’ve suggested before in comparing the two revolutions. The Americans didn’t keep the guillotines running around the clock during their struggle for independence, but that doesn’t mean it was a bloodless affair. The Tories who suffered lynchings, floggings, confiscation, and exile would probably argue that the American Revolution was rather savage indeed. Washington and his subordinates managed to keep the Continental Army on a fairly tight leash, but militiamen and partisans weren’t always so restrained in dealing out violence. And if we consider the war between Indians and whites that coincided with the contest between America and England, the French Revolution doesn’t always look all that cataclysmic by comparison.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the American Revolution meant different things to different people. Some Patriots were content to define it as a separation from Britain and monarchy. Others had more radical ambitions. Independence was a chance to redefine the nature of American politics and society—to empower popular legislatures, to eliminate the deference that characterized the colonial world, and to alter the status of women and blacks. For some Americans, the Revolution rolled right on after the ratification of the Constitution, supplied with the momentum of its own ideology.
It’s not that Coulter’s portrait of the Revolution is wrong; there’s a good deal of truth to it. The problem is that it’s incomplete. You could fundamentally disagree with her about the American Revolution and its legacies, and both of you could still be correct because the Revolution was itself a sometimes contradictory affair. Even the participants and their heirs never completely agreed on what it all meant.
Some new and upcoming titles I find worthy of note:
- A biography of George Rogers Clark. It’s been quite a while since we’ve had a full Clark bio, so this is good news.
- A new collection of essays on Nathanael Greene’s campaigns in the South
- An examination of the men who accompanied Benedict Arnold to Quebec…
- …and a book about the woman who helped him turn traitor
- What did Burgoyne’s surrender do? Maybe not all that much.
- Collection of firsthand Redcoat accounts
- A look at the Pennsylvania Associators
- Finally, it’s not the Rev War, but it’s pretty darn close—a history of Dunmore’s War.
I’m going to be completely broke by the end of the year.
At least one writer in Boston is a little miffed because Philadelphia will be home to the new Museum of the American Revolution. Personally, I think Philly is the better option, just because it’s more centrally located and because it was the capital.
Besides, Boston already has so many great early American sites that maybe it’s time to share the love a little. New England is the only American region I haven’t visited yet, but when I finally go there, it’ll be a multi-week orgy of historical sightseeing the like of which mankind has yet to witness.
This might surprise you, but I think a good third-runner-up home for the museum would be Charleston. Think about it: Almost one-fifth of all American combat deaths in the war were in South Carolina during the war’s last years, and there were probably more armed clashes there than in any other state with the possible exception of New Jersey. (My source for these claims is John Gordon’s book on Rev War battles in the Palmetto State.) Of course, two things you don’t want near your artifacts are humidity and hurricanes, but I’m in favor of anything that will shave a few hours off my drive when this thing opens.
Check out this New York Times article on the growth of black membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. The new chapter in Queens is the first one started by an African-American woman.
We’ve come a long way since 1939, when the DAR refused to let contralto Marian Anderson perform at Constitution Hall. That refusal famously prompted Eleanor Roosevelt to resign her membership and led to a public concert at the Lincoln Memorial. (The DAR invited Anderson to perform a benefit concert at Constitution Hall in 1942.)
Daniel Eagen considers the state of American Revolution movies and doesn’t see much cause for optimism.
Eli Lehrer wishes the National Trust for Historic Preservation would get out of everybody’s way.
While nobody disputes that certain areas do deserve preservation or the Trust has done good work in protecting them them [sic], many places on the 2012 list have little to do with actual history and much to do with a busy-body attitude that seeks to diminish private property rights and waste tax dollars on dubious “preservation” efforts.
Judging by his op-ed, I think Lehrer’s main criterion for whether a site merits protection is that it be deemed worthy and interesting by none other than Eli Lehrer:
Many courthouses in rural Texas (another item on the list of “national treasures”) are in poor shape but it’s not clear why they’re of any national significance — most have hosted nothing beyond workaday civil and criminal trials and few are architecturally distinguished. There’s no reason why Texas taxpayers should do what the trust wants and shovel millions more into “protecting” them if their own counties don’t see a value in doing so. Likewise, there’s no reason why a building that once housed a gym where boxer Joe Frazier trained is of any importance at all: while Frazier himself does have importance to sports history, it’s not typical or expected to preserve sports figures’ practice sites so tourists can visit them. They just aren’t very interesting. The same goes for utterly ordinary corrugated steel warehouses in the Port of Los Angles and an unexceptional small town in Ohio. Nothing truly historic happened in either place.
Personally, I might give his opinions more weight if he wasn’t such a sloppy and uninformed commentator. Citing the controversy over proposed housing at Princeton Battlefield, Lehrer claims that “local busybodies still want to prevent Princeton University from building some housing in any area near the battlefield because they believe, among other things, that soldiers en route to the battle marched across it.” In fact, it’s not Princeton University that wants to build the housing, but the Institute for Advanced Study, which is completely independent of the university.
More importantly, the Princeton Battlefield Society has identified the portion of the field in question as core battlefield land. Indeed, the very PBS document to which Lehrer links in his “local busybodies” quote identifies the parcel as such. Is it too much to ask that an op-ed writer read a little about the subject of his piece, especially that he read the documents to which he refers directly?
Lehrer also writes that the Princeton battlefield is “already a state park.” The implication that historic sites are out of harm’s way once they receive designation as a park betrays ignorance of a seemingly obvious point. Such sites do not contain all the historic ground relating to a particular event. They only contain what preservationists and agencies have been able to acquire. The existence of a battlefield park only means that part of a given battlefield has obtained protected status, not that all the ground on which the battle took place is within the boundaries of a park. Even land within park boundaries is not immune from the traffic congestion, ruined viewsheds, and other problems that come with encroachment. In some cases, parcels of historic parks aren’t even contiguous, but instead are separated by other parcels of land over which park agencies have no control.
Preservation doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We can have informed, reasonable discussions about this stuff—but we can’t do it with people who don’t really know what they’re talking about.
They’ve brought in an archaeologist from across the pond to look for remains of the 1778 siege. I went there a few years ago; it’s a neat site.
Changes in technology over the centuries, as well as differences in geography and resources, make comparisons seem apples and oranges. However, it is feasible to measure how well a general did with what he had to work with and considering the opponents he faced. In that regard, Washington was an absolutely superb strategist, the best the United States has produced, ever.
Personally, I wouldn’t go that far; in fact, I think one of Washington’s own subordinates, Nathanael Greene, was a superior strategist. But I would agree that Washington was a gifted strategical thinker, able to balance purely military factors with larger political considerations.
Palmer makes his case in a book published last month.