Eliga H. Gould, Peter S. Onuf, eds. Empire and Nation: The American Revolution in the Atlantic World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. viii + 381 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8018-7912-8.
Reviewed by Jeremy Black (Department of History, University of Exeter)
Published on H-Albion (June, 2005)
Although nowhere near as original as it suggests, this collection is a most useful contribution to the Atlanticist approach to the eighteenth century, specifically to the attempt to contextualize the American Revolution in terms of the British Atlantic and to consider the impact of this Revolution on that British world. This indeed is a most helpful perspective, although, as a minor point, the volume shares the general problem of a limited comparative context: it would, for example, be instructive to consider at length the contrast between the British empire, where victory in the Seven Years' War was followed by revolution, and that in the French and Spanish empires, where failure in that conflict did not lead to revolution.
The helpful introduction by the editors is followed by fifteen chapters. Eliga Gould assesses the relationship between British politics and the coming of revolution, focusing not on the ministerial dimension so ably covered by Peter Thomas elsewhere but on shifts in political culture, including the growing willingness of the British to back the peacetime maintenance of professional troops, a view conspicuously not shared in the colonies. David Hendrickson assesses the nature of the union established in the first years of American independence, with specific reference to the tension between nationalism and internationalism. His emphasis is on the latter and he sees the union as an experiment in interstate or international cooperation, constituted against the background of pervasive fears that no such thing was possible. American patriotism is glimpsed in terms of the sentiment of nationality most appropriate for a union that embraced such numerous diversities. Don Higginbotham discusses war and state formation in Revolutionary America, in an instructive piece the concluding section of which would have benefited from mention of the Civil War. Richard Ryerson anatomizes John Adams as a republican monarchist: his response to George III was very different to that of the more hostile Jefferson. Fearing aristocracy, Adams was concerned about how best to avoid oligarchy, and saw a strong leader as the best response. Ellen Pearson assesses early American legal scholars and the republicanization of the Common Law. She notes that American legal scholars sought, in creating a superior common law system, to co-opt the English heritage. At the more local level, Mary Schweitzer focuses on ratification in the Great Valley of the Appalachians, a useful piece that contrasts politics and revolution-making in Pennsylvania and Virginia. These contrasts are seen to result in a long-term breach between North and South. Steven Sarson in contrast looks at free society in the tobacco South, arguing that, far from there being a major discontinuity, the growing social differentiation of the colonial period continued after independence. Maurice Bric shows how Irish immigration was related to the broadening of the polity in Philadelphia in the 1790s. Insecurities over the direction of the new republic played a role. Melvin Yazawa returns attention to a broader canvas in approaching politics in the age of Federalism. He assesses the impassioned rhetoric of the principals and shows how, in seeking to rally support, it also threatened the system. Marc Harris takes the subject forward chronologically to consider civil society. He suggests that the growing interdependence of American society by the mid-nineteenth century made it increasingly difficult for particular communities to sustain multiple representations that had constituted their civic identities. Robert Calhoon brings in religion, and, specifically, the impact of the intermingling of denominational and primitive Christianity.
The remaining chapters have more to do with the theme of the collection, the relationship between the American Revolution and the Atlantic world. Keith Mason introduces the important dimension of the Loyalist diaspora, offering valuable insights in terms of the experience of particular individuals. James Sidbury uses early slave narratives to make an important point about the boundaries about which blacks could speak or write. Arguing that slave narrators were forced by the market to sell themselves and their ideas as peculiarly "black," he discerns a segregation of their narrative. Edward Cox adds the dimension of the British Caribbean in the 1790s and 1800s, seeing white self-confidence as shattered as a result of the black activism of the period. In a wide-ranging piece on the impact of the Revolution on migration to the United States, Trevor Burnard notes that migration patterns in the various regions of the United States resembled patterns in similar regions that had remained within the empire. This rewarding collection deserves much attention.
. See, for example, David Karr. "Review of Peter D. G. Thomas, George III: King and Politicians, 1760-1770," H-Albion, May, 2004. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=193621087483022.
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Jeremy Black. Review of Gould, Eliga H.; Onuf, Peter S., eds., Empire and Nation: The American Revolution in the Atlantic World.
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