From Publishers Weekly
Guiding readers on a journey across the three interlocked powers of the late 18th century—France, Britain and the new United States—historian Andress (The Terror
) regales with stories of such leaders as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès, who stoked the flames of revolution, and Edmund Burke, who tried to extinguish the blaze. Looking at the social, economic, political and imperial factors coming together in 1789, Andress weighs the ironies of that revolutionary moment: the Bill of Rights and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man both appeared in that year, but Andress points out the familiar truth that the freedoms proclaimed by these documents were often compromised by the very governments that trumpeted them. A new language had emerged to confront those holding power, but that language too often licensed aggression against slaves, women and others seen as not subject to guarantees of liberty. Although Andress pedantically covers much familiar ground, he reminds us that the struggle between individual rights and oppressive social systems might have begun in 1789, but it is still with us today. Illus., maps. (Mar. 10)
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Author of The Terror (2006), a popular history about the most radical phase of the French Revolution, Andress is more ambitious in this prequel. Setting events in France alongside contemporaneous politics in Britain and the U.S., Andress tests how Enlightenment ideals of liberties and rights met with the ancien régime of traditional privileges. In all three countries, this contest was made more acute by a common problem they faced: heavy debt incurred by the American War of Independence. Whose ox would be gored to pay it stressed existing political institutions to the limit and agitated both elite and popular grievances against existing states of affairs. Andress evokes the anxious atmosphere of the 1780s, while his presentation of schemes offered to master the financial crises illustrates an Atlantic world on its way toward constitutional democracy. With in-depth narrative and analysis about 1789’s events surrounding the new government of the U.S.; the Estates-General in France; and Parliament in Britain, Andress will intrigue readers piqued by this crucial year in history. --Gilbert Taylor