Robert Martello. Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn: Paul Revere and the Growth of American Enterprise. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010. vi + 421 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8018-9757-3; $30.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8018-9758-0.
Reviewed by Allan Branstiter (University of Southern Mississippi)
Published on H-War (September, 2012)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
In Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn, Robert Martello examines the nature and implications of the concurrent Cultural and Industrial Revolutions of late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century America. Using the career of Paul Revere as a lens, Martello argues that Revere “helped America close the technological gap with Britain and moved the nation closer to the ideas of industrial capitalism” (p. 4). Martello explains, often in great detail, how Revere employed his skills to manage laborers, collect capital, and innovate new technologies in order to propel his country’s economy through a transition from a craft system to a proto-industrial economy.
Martello’s most important argument is that a period of proto-industrialism characterized revolutionary America’s transition from a craft to an industrialized economy. As a concept, “proto-industry” has been largely abandoned by economic historians due to its narrow definition. Martello argues that it “deserves to live again in a broader form that describes the fluid combination of old and new methods that fostered American industrial growth” (p. 7). He portrays the process of industrialization as a gradual and inconsistent transition from a pre-capitalistic craft system to an industrial manufacturing system. Martello makes the compelling argument that economies gradually adopted a mixture of both craft and industrial economic characteristics. By viewing this transformation through Revere’s perspective and using the artisan-turned-manufacturer’s career as a lens, Martello demonstrates how America transitioned from a mercantilist craft economy--tied to and dependent on Great Britain--into a proto-industrial nation after the American Revolution. By weaving together a detailed account of Revere’s career with revolutionary America’s economic metamorphosis, Martello has written a book that salvages the concept of proto-industrialism and has much to offer a wide range of readers.
For men like Revere, industrialization was not obvious or immediate. Though he adopted the record keeping, manufacturing scale, and production standardization of an industrial capitalist, Revere held onto many traditional craft-system ideas and habits. Throughout his career, he continued to see his workers as “fellow craftsmen whose hard work and judgment profoundly contributed to the success of his manufactory” (p. 281). Gradually, Revere took on a more managerial role and actively sought ways to produce goods faster and cheaper, but he still prided himself for being a skilled and knowledgeable member of a community of craftsmen. When Revere retired in 1811, he blissfully reflected on his current state as being somewhere between a craft and industrial existence. He saw himself as a sort of new republican manufacturing gentleman: wealthy and land owning leader in his community, while still not afraid to work with his hands. Martello argues that Revere’s methods, habits, and writings are evidence of the newly emerged proto-industrial economy and class structure of the new United States.
Books claiming to capture the “life and times” of their subjects have become something of a cliché; however, Martello has accomplished this very thing by closely linking Revere’s life to the cultural, social, and economic changes that occurred in revolutionary America. Revere, though not a great general or political leader, is portrayed as a central figure in the United States’ quest for political and economic independence. Martello argues that Revere’s genius lay within his ability to emulate, not invent. After the Revolutionary War, the young United States was deeply in debt, unable to acquire lines of credit, without an efficient transportation infrastructure, lacking in laborers, and cut off from the British manufactured goods many were still dependent on. Men like Revere--artisans of some means and social connections--created ways to reproduce manufactured goods, however crudely, to replace those that had been previously imported. Revere accomplished this by applying his existing knowledge to new technologies, experiencing trial and error, using bribery, and plugging into a network of fellow American proto-industrialists. In 1804, he even sent his son, Joseph Warren, to Europe as an industrial spy in order to learn the methods of Britain’s jealously guarded copperworks.
Martello’s book also examines the social effects of the Revolution on Revere. Revere was an intensely ambitious and skilled artisan silversmith. Professionally, he was descended through his father from John Coney, one of colonial America’s most important silversmiths. Biologically, he was related through his mother to the Hitchborns, one of the wealthiest families in New England. Ironically, his skill as an artisan and his maternal linkage to a colonial gentry family served to thwart Revere’s desire to transcend his position among the middling sort. Drawing from Gordon Wood’s The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1992), Martello shows that the Revolution fundamentally altered the way Americans viewed themselves and their relationship with each other and government. Perhaps overestimating the leveling effects of the Revolution, Revere applied for and was quickly denied an artillery officer’s commission in the Continental army. After a disastrous stint with the Massachusetts militia, which denied him any substantial governmental appointment, Revere had to look for other avenues for social advancement. Revere found such a route in the burgeoning realm of iron, brass, and copper manufacturing.
Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn is very much a history of science and technology. It is a rewarding study in this regard. However, there are some aspects of Martello’s analysis that beg for deeper explanation. There is little in the way of social conflict within this account. Questions regarding race and gender are only superficially explored. One is also left to wonder if Revere’s connections to people with money and power were more of a result of the traditional patronage system that existed in colonial America than to his oft-cited networking skills. Martello’s portrayal of Revere seems to gravitate toward the trope of the “self-made man” despite the fact that Revere’s proximity to elite Federalists seems to have been of equal value to his success. Martello’s use of the immense collection of Revere family papers and secondary sources makes for a very insightful, however Whiggish, history. Despite these small flaws, Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn is a wonderful contribution to the field and readers have much to gain from studying it. Martello efficiently places Revere’s craft and manufacturing techniques within the context of thousands of years of metal-working history. Industrialization is shown to be a difficult process made possible by ingenuity, adaptability, espionage, government patronage, and hard labor. Additionally, Martello’s descriptions of the complex processes of bell casting and copper rolling are fascinating, thorough, and accessible.
Martello’s study has much to offer War and Society historians, as well. He argues that Revere’s key moment of success came when he gained a government contract and loan to develop a method of manufacturing copper sheathing for the United States Navy. Copper was a vital component of wooden shipbuilding, and Britain jealously guarded their monopoly on copper sheathing technology. Contractors like Revere were employed by the new federal government to help overcome Britain’s attempts to control vital military resources. Martello’s arguments thereby support the theory that centralized state power is a vital component in the creation of modern militaries and show how national security policies helped fuel industrialization in the fledgling United States. Overall, Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn is a model of how to build and present a rich and effective argument by incorporating cultural, political, economic, technological, and military historical methods.
: Paul Revere and the Growth of American Enterprise
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