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Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America's Founding Fathers [Hardcover]

Michael Barone
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Political journalist and historian Barone (Hard America, Soft America) elucidates the template for America's independence movement in this well-written history of its forerunner: England's Glorious Revolution of 1688. The author describes the origins of the revolution, a mostly bloodless change of government, as a mixture of religious, political and diplomatic factors. King James II's Roman Catholicism, hostility to Parliament, and French sympathies alienated an increasing number of his powerful subjects including John Churchill, later Duke of Marlborough, who invited Dutch Stadtholder William of Orange and his wife, Mary, James's sister, to intervene. Among the revolution's consequences was a Bill of Rights that limited the monarch's powers and strengthened representative government. A Toleration Act encouraged variant forms of Protestant worship. The creation of a funded national debt and the foundation of the Bank of England laid the groundwork for financial development. Involvement in the long series of wars with France moved England from a country standing apart from Europe to one that took responsibility for maintaining a continental balance of power. It was a Glorious Revolution indeed that laid the political groundwork for the world in which we now live, and Barone's lucid work honors its heritage. (May 8)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Barone, the high-profile sage on American elections (The Almanac of American Politics, 2006), here turns to England's Glorious Revolution of 1688-89. To this well-studied topic--the author draws extensively on biographers of its leading figures--Barone productively contributes his scholarly trademark: analysis of elections. Several parliamentary canvasses were conducted during the Stuart Restoration, whose elements of procedure, franchise, and electoral arithmetic Barone breaks down over the major issue in play, which was rife with the possibilities of civil war: the rights to be accorded to Catholics and, specifically, converted Catholic James II. Barone proves a dramatic narrator of this question's volatile course in the 1680s, from Parliament's attempt to exclude James from the succession to Charles II, to the Duke of Monmouth's rebellion of 1685, to the settlement of the crisis in the invasion by William of Orange and Parliament's elevation of him to the throne. Applying a readable historical contingency to these complex events and their ramifications for America, Barone's account will be welcomed by avid history readers. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"Michael Barone's definition of a revolution is more conservative than mine, but it's exactly the irony - of a conservative revolution - that lends point and weight to his absorbing study of an event that changed much more than it set out to change. Without 1688 there would have been no 1776."
—Christopher Hitchens

“We all know Michael Barone as one of the nation’s most insightful observers of the American political scene. Now, turning his considerable talents to the Glorious Revolution, he has woven a rich, varied, and fascinating tale, a saga not simply of British liberties, but ultimately, one which would have great resonance for America’s Founders as well.”
—Jay Winik, author of April 1865: The Month That Saved America

“Not content with being the most knowledgeable commentator on the nuts and bolts of American politics, Michael Barone now provides a splendid analysis of the intellectual pedigree of America’s political order. He demonstrates the remarkable extent to which our revolution was a reverberation of another one.”
—George F. Will, Pulitzer Prize—winning columnist

“Michael Barone is legendary as the author of The Almanac of American Politics, the Bible of the Beltway. With this sparkling new study he shows that he should be well known as an historian also. His compelling narrative reveals how the Glorious Revolution of 1688 shaped America’s own revolution less than a century later. Barone demonstrates that a political journalist supremely sensitive to the tides that govern electoral politics can teach professional historians a great deal.”
—Paul A. Rahe, Jay P. Walker Professor of American History at the University of Tulsa

"A well-researched, well-written, thought-provoking book."
Wall Street Journal

“Loved it. It’s so dramatic and theatrical.”
—Jon Stewart, The Daily Show

“An important new book . . . Thanks to writers like David McCullough, Richard Brookhiser, David Hackett Fischer, and now Barone, we still have both an interest and a legitimate pride in who we are and where we come from.”
Chicago Sun-Times

About the Author

MICHAEL BARONE is a senior writer with U.S. News & World Report and a contributor to Fox News Channel. He is the principal coauthor of the biannual Almanac of American Politics and the author of Our Country, The New Americans, and Hard America, Soft America.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

From The Washington Post

Reviewed by H.W. Brands

Voltaire dismissed the Holy Roman Empire as not holy, Roman or an empire. Historians have long given a similar back of the hand to England's Glorious Revolution of the 1680s. It was glorious, they asserted, mostly in avoiding mass bloodshed, and compared to later revolutions in France, Russia and China, it wasn't much of a revolution.

Michael Barone disagrees. The change in English government as a result of the events of 1688-89 was not simply astonishing on its own terms, he argues, but pregnant with consequences for the English-speaking world. Barone is a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report, a longtime coauthor of the Almanac of American Politics and an occasional historian of recent American public life. In his current book he digs three centuries into the English past to unearth the roots of contemporary political practice on the Western side of the Atlantic -- the "Our" of his title refers to us Americans.

Some of the digging is not for the easily distracted. To motivate his main story, Barone traces the turbulent politics of mid-17th-century England, France and what became the Netherlands. It's a complicated era, just similar enough to our own to be misleading, and the careless reader risks getting overwhelmed. Thankfully, Barone entices us forward with such tidbits as that Tangerines were veterans of military service in Tangiers before they were little oranges, and that the difference between local time in London and Paris was once measured in days, 10 in the 1680s, because England refused to update its calendar.

Once Barone reaches his actual starting mark, the story snaps along. "A young Prince borne, which will cause disputes," he quotes a diarist of June 1688. The arrival of the heir was crucial, for the fate of England hung on the issue of issue -- namely whether Catholic king James II would be succeeded by a Catholic son or daughter. Religious wars had convulsed Europe for most of the century and a half since the start of the Protestant Reformation; in England the religious disputes had triggered a regicide, a civil war and several lesser eruptions of violence. Protestants insisted on observing the royal birth, suspecting that Queen Mary Beatrice wasn't really pregnant and that a surrogate would be smuggled under the bedclothes. Their attendance hardly settled the case. " 'Tis possible it may be her child," conceded James's estranged daughter Anne. "But where one believes it, a thousand do not."

The prospect of another Catholic king inspired a small group of Protestant worthies -- the Immortal Seven, their admirers called them -- to commit treason against James by inviting William of Orange, the husband of James's daughter Mary, to invade England and seize the throne. William responded by mounting the last successful invasion of England. John Churchill, James's military commander, deserted his patron and defected to William. "I am actuated by a higher principle," Churchill wrote in a letter he left for James: to wit, "the inviolable dictates of my conscience, and a necessary concern for religion." (Churchill neglected to explain why his conscience hadn't troubled him before William arrived.)

Thus William assumed the throne, ruling jointly with Mary. Yet he did so under constraints negotiated with the political brokers who invited him from the Netherlands. These restrictions constituted the "revolutionary"' aspect of what otherwise would have been a coup d'etat: In an age of absolutism elsewhere, the English monarch would defer to Parliament on key questions. A Bill of Rights ensured basic liberties to Englishmen, and the principle of self-government took what Barone rightly calls a "giant step forward."

Barone detects even larger consequences. The settlement of 1689, by marrying Dutch business sense to emerging English constitutionalism, laid the foundation for the 18th-century expansion of the British empire. An offshoot of that empire became the United States of America, whose founders wrapped themselves in the mantle of the Glorious Revolution. The 1689 settlement also fortified Britain to balance what Barone calls the "hegemonic power" of absolutist, then revolutionary, and finally Napoleonic France.

The hegemonic label is important to Barone, in that he traces the effects of the Glorious Revolution into the 20th century and beyond. The United States, he argues, was the continuing heir of the 1689 settlement, its growing strength undergirded by the same elements of law and commerce that had built the British empire. Americans eventually adopted the anti-hegemonic philosophy pursued by William and his English successors. Barone takes pleasure in noting the historical symmetry in the anti-hegemonic -- that is, anti-German -- alliance of the United States and Britain during World War II, the former led by the Dutchman Franklin Roosevelt, the latter by John Churchill's descendant Winston. He might have noted something else. Barone asks what the world would have been like had the United States not acquired the habit of opposing "tyrannical hegemonic powers," and he proceeds to list among the bad guys Louis XIV, Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Hitler, Stalin and "the terrorists of Osama bin Laden and the mullahs of Iran." Leaving aside that Osama and the mullahs are hardly in the same geopolitical league as Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin, Barone might have mentioned how long it took the United States to reach the stage of peaceful self-government, and how many people died -- in the American Civil War, most conspicuously -- getting there. At a time when the present administration remains committed to establishing democracy in Iraq, the most important lesson of American political history may be that democracy doesn't come easily. William of Orange and John Churchill spared England a war in the 1680s; America in the 1860s wasn't so lucky, and neither is Iraq now.

Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

The Improbable Revolution

The First Revolution: what is generally known as the Glorious Revolution. In recent years Americans have been devouring books on our nation’s Founding Fathers—Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton—some written by academic historians, others by gifted professional writers. As these writers help us understand, the Founders did not spring from a historical vacuum. Before the break with the Crown, they regarded themselves as Englishmen, as inheritors of the system of government and the traditional liberties of England. As they moved daringly into a revolutionary and republican future, they looked back on a heritage that was shaped by many historical events. Not least among them was what most Englishmen referred to as the Glorious Revolution of 1688–89. This term referred to the series of events that resulted in the ouster of King James II and the installation of King William III and Queen Mary II, and in changes in English law, governance, and politics that turned out to be major advances for representative government, guaranteeing liberties, global capitalism, and a foreign policy of opposing hegemonic powers on the European continent and in the world beyond.

The First Revolution, as it will be called here, was a reference point, an example, indeed a glowing example, for the American Founders. The Founding Fathers began their rebellion not by rejecting the achievements of the Glorious Revolution, but by arguing that Parliament and King George III were denying them their rights as Englishmen that were gained in that Revolution and the revolutionary settlement—the laws passed in 1689 and the 1690s. It is true that as the Founding Fathers created their own revolution and formed their republic, they did not fully accept the Revolutionary settlement—the set of laws and customs established during and immediately following the Glorious Revolution. The new nation would have no monarchy or titled nobility, no religious tests for public office, and no national established church. But the founders also self-consciously copied some features of the Revolutionary settlement, from yearly sessions of Congress to the establishment of a national bank and a funded debt to the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

The Glorious Revolution has long been recognized in Britain as a founding event that has shaped the character of the nation ever since. But this First Revolution has gotten much less attention in the United States. For much of the second half of the twentieth century, academic historians in this country as well as in Britain have devoted much more attention to the events of 1641–60, events that brought to the fore radicals who could be seen as ancestors of the Marxist revolutionaries of the twentieth century. The Glorious Revolution was seen, in contrast, as something in the nature of a coup d’état brought off by royals and nobles, a shuffling of power between dead white males (never mind that important parts were played by Princesses Mary and Anne, Queen Mary Beatrice, and Sarah Churchill). But there is a strong argument that the events of 1641–60 were less than consequential in shaping the English polity and what would become the American inheritance than was the Revolution of 1688–89 and the Revolutionary settlement that was worked out in the 1690s. Those changes proved to be far more enduring.

The Revolution of 1688–89 was the first change of government in England that was at the time called a revolution. Twentieth-century historians often refer to the events of 1641–60 as the English Revolution,1 but this complicated series of events—described by recent historians as three separate civil wars and a republican interregnum—was not called a revolution in the seventeenth century.2 In contrast, the events of 1688–89 were the first to be widely, almost universally, labeled a revolution by contemporaries.3

The First Revolution was a tremendously consequential event and a tremendously improbable one. “I cannot forbear remarking,” wrote the Cumberland landowner and regional political magnate Sir John Lowther in his Memoirs of the Reign of James II, “how wonderfullie this thing succeeded in opposition to so many visible and apparent accidents, anie one of which whereof they had happened, the whole design must certainly have miscarried.”4 It was, writes historian J. G. A. Pocock, an “amazing and unpredicted transaction,”5 or, as the historian Paul Rahe writes, it “was by no means inevitable. It more nearly resembled a freak accident.”6 William of Orange, stadholder of the Netherlands, assembled an army variously estimated at 15,000 to 20,000 men and a flotilla of five hundred ships, crossed the English Channel in the usually wind-tossed month of November, then pushed James II to order his army to retreat without a battle. Princess Mary, William’s wife, and Princess Anne cooperated in the ouster of their father, James II. It was, as Pocock continues, “a spectacular display of reason of state rising above the restraints of common morality; daughters dethroned their father, even the sanitized version of King Lear was hard to perform for many years, and what William of Orange and John Churchill severally did is still enough to take your breath away if you think about it.”7 Or, as the Calvinist and usually humorless William said to the Anglican clergyman Gilbert Burnet after his troops successfully landed in England, “Well, Doctor, what do you think of predestination now?”8

The First Revolution happened in an England and a Europe very different from today’s. This mostly bloodless revolution occurred after more than a century of religious wars. In England, Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church when denied a divorce, and in 1532 was declared the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Under Henry and his young successor Edward VI, the Church of England adopted many Protestant doctrines: the king was the Supreme Head of the Church, monasteries were closed, English translations of the Bible and an English Prayer Book were introduced.9 Edward died at 16 and was succeeded in 1553 by his older sister Mary I, who returned England to Catholicism and executed some 300 Protestants. She died in 1558 and her Protestant sister Elizabeth I reestablished the Church of England.

Despite the established Church of England, many forms of belief persisted under Elizabeth and her successor James I (1603–25). There were Puritans, a loosely defined group who wanted to simplify Church ritual and belief, and Presbyterians, who believed that the Church should be governed by elders selected by congregations rather than by bishops selected by the king. There were, living secretly and also in the open, Catholics who remained loyal to the Church of Rome. Religious differences played an important role in the Civil War that broke out between Charles I and Parliament in 1642 and that resulted in the execution of the king in 1649. The parliamentary governments led by Oliver Cromwell and others banned Church of England clergy from preaching, ordered Catholic priests out of the kingdom, and stripped churches of ornament and paintings and broke stained-glass windows. When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, the Church of England was again established. But in the years since Charles I was executed, there had grown up Dissenting Protestant sects that would in time be known as Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, and Quakers. The treatment of these Dissenting Protestants and of Catholics became lively political issues in Charles II’s reign and that of his brother James II (1685–88). 10

These religious struggles in England went on simultaneously but not in close connection with the struggles between Protestantism and Catholicism in continental Europe. Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg in 1517 and defended his doctrines at the Diet of Worms, summoned by the young Emperor Charles V in 1521. Lutheranism and other forms of Protestantism spread in what is now Germany, Scandinavia, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary through much of the sixteenth century. The Peace of Augsburg of 1555 was based on the principle of cuius regio eius religio: the ruler of each state would determine its religion. Protestantism seemed to prevail over about half of Christian Europe.

The Catholic Church responded to this Reformation with a Counter-Reformation. The Council of Trent, concluded in 1563, reaffirmed traditional Catholic doctrine and ordered internal reforms of the Church. Counter-Reformation Catholicism was characterized by a rigorous faith, elaborate ceremony with incense and inspiring music, beautifully decorated baroque churches to inspire awe and to make the Mass an emotionally moving experience. The baroque churches still found today from Rome to France and Germany, Bohemia and Poland, Spain and the Spanish and Portuguese colonies of Latin America are concrete evidence of the confidence and verve of the Counter-Reformation Catholic Church.

In different countries Catholics went on the offensive. In France, leading Protestant Huguenots were murdered in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572; after the Huguenot Henri IV became king in 1589, he faced civil war and converted to Catholicism, concluding, “Paris is worth a Mass.” In what is now Germany, the Catholic Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperors went on the offensive in the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48), and Protestantism was extirpated in what are now the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, and large parts of Germany. The treaties of Westphalia ended this conflict in 1648, recognizing the independence of states, including those within the Holy Roman Empire, and the right of their rulers to determine their religion. The United Provinces of the Netherlands, which had been fighting their...

From AudioFile

Stephen Hoye begins this history of the 1688 ouster of King James II and the elevation of William and Mary to the throne in his usual drawling, lilting manner. While suitable for dramatic fiction, this style only makes it harder to follow the complexities of seventeenth-century English and European political history. Fortunately, Hoye reads more crisply as he goes on. He keeps the pacing good, and his timbre is pleasing. Eventually even a listener unfamiliar with the period will catch on to the various players. There is a lot to be learned here, and some interesting ideas; listeners may have a hard time initially, but its worthwhile to persevere. W.M. © AudioFile 2008, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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