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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "History" is what Historians Think Happened ..., January 22, 2010
This review is from: The First American Revolution: Before Lexington and Concord (Hardcover)
... and nowhere is that truer than in the accepted, standardized history of the American Revolution, with its paper trail of historiography backwards though the generations of the Adams Family to colonial Boston and ultimately to the Harvard Yard. It's a history of leaders, written by the heirs of those leaders, suited to the agenda of leadership. As such, it's inevitably a conservative historical discourse, in which the question has been asked again and again whether the "revolution" was in any sense really revolutionary. Since the most literate leaders, and heirs of leaders, were Boston merchants and their attorneys, the proximate causes of colonial dissatisfaction have always been described as taxation and mercantile policies that put colonial ports at disadvantage. Events in Massachusetts and Philadelphia dominate the basic textbook accounts of the War of Independence. Ever since Longfellow, the 'shot heard round the world' at Concord has been the official starting point of the American Revolution.

However, John Adams himself knew better. Somewhere, in his correspondence with Thomas Jefferson if my memory is correct, Adams ruminates to the effect that the "revolution" had already been accomplished in the hearts and minds of the citizenry before the gunfire at Lexington and Concord, even perhaps before the first 'Continental' Congress sessions in Philadelphia. Ray Raphael's book "The First American Revolution" is an exploration of that perception based on events in Massachusetts OUTSIDE Boston, when nearly the whole population of common farmers rose up to obstruct the implementation of the "Massachusetts Government Act", the most explicit effort by the British Parliament to assert overseas authority and discipline the upstart notions of 'home rule.' In the year before the Battle of Lexington, the whole structure of colonial government in Massachusetts - especially the courts - was shut down, by means of massive, mostly non-violent demonstrations, and ad hoc, extra-legal committees of social order had achieved plausibility. In the course of these demonstrations, the elite squirearchy of the Massachusetts townships, the families of wealth and respectability, found their preeminence challenged and their assumptions of proper hierarchy overturned, to a degree that can be truly considered revolutionary. The unsettled squirearchs, of course -- the "River Gods" of the Connecticutt Valley in particular -- as well as some of the prominent Boston merchants who had presented themselves as patriots, soon discovered that the commoners were moving beyond their leaders, in directions that implied a degree of democracy unforeseen in the counting houses. Sic transit, as usual; the provocateurs become the reactionaries. Of the rural elites, many become Tories, placing their bets as it wer on the wrong horse. Others, led by those 'men of means and wisdom' whom we call the Founding Fathers, take full advantage of their positions and abilities to 'ordain and establish' the order based on property that they cherished above all.

This is an interesting perspective -- the democratic revolution betrayed by a conservative backlash. Ray Raphael is far from the first historian to expound this perception. What makes his book special and valuable is the detailed substance of his research. Raphael's narrative of the events of the rural resistance to Governor/General Gage's imposition of the new Government Act is drawn entirely from primary sources -- pamphlets, newspapers, letters, official reports, court documents, etc. -- especially the ample archives of Worchester, where some of the most vivid acts of rebellion took place.

The whole shebang of Revolution wasn't accomplished in Worchester, of course, or in Massachusetts. For insight into the role of the laboring classes of Boston, you might take a look at "The Shoemaker and the Tea Party" by Alfred F. Young. And for the tale of another "American Revolution" entirely, please read "Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia" by Woody Holton. Old John Adams was on the right track; the American Revolution can be best understood 'from the bottom up.'
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 22, 2010 2:14:07 PM PST
The book and review are a more precise explanation of the American Revolution.

Posted on Jan 22, 2010 5:51:11 PM PST
H. Schneider says:
great stuff!

Posted on Jan 22, 2010 7:39:24 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 22, 2010 7:47:38 PM PST
the customer says:
It's funny - the "Revolution" as taught in history books resembles a conservative movement, a push to maintain the comfortable status quo (comfortable for merchants, businessmen, and landowners) of salutary neglect. This "rural resistance," I take it, was an entirely different animal, representing a truly revolutionary shift that the original "provocateurs" found unsettling. This seems to be a common trend in revolutions pre-1789, before things got even more complicated.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 22, 2010 8:09:53 PM PST
Yes, 'customer', I'd expect you to be very interested in this book. And it's not a heavy project for a good reader.

Posted on Jan 23, 2010 7:35:54 AM PST
This is avery informative and interesting review. Thanks, Gio.

Posted on Jan 24, 2010 1:58:17 PM PST
doc peterson says:
Another marvelous find. (American history is not a forte, although it is of interest. The other recommendations are also appreciated.) Into the cart.

Posted on Jan 27, 2010 8:54:30 PM PST
Dear Gio:

I cannot agree more. The Revolution was a movement of the mind long before a single battle. I would also have added the early part of the 2cd Great Awakeningas an influence, but of course you can only review the contents of the book. Well done.
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