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Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of Early Modern British Colonies and the Formation of American Culture 1st New edition Edition
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His criticism of the declension model rests principally in that it assumes a deterioration of New England culture and quality of life. As such, it cannot properly address the demographic and economic changes occurring in those colonies beginning around 1660. Having thus assessed the validity of the declension model, he then proposes his own developmental model for the Chesapeake region. That model states, in essence, that permanent civilization grew out of temporary colonies by virtue of the change from strictly individual, go-it-alone pursuits to the much more practical individual-within-a-greater-community approach. That latter phenomenon, he demonstrates, is a reflection of life and the socioeconomic situation in Great Britain itself, thereby proving that not only does the declension model fail to hold for the Chesapeake colonies, it was never representative of the Old World either.
He then goes on to describe the socioeconomic nature of the colonies in Ireland, the Middle Colonies around New York along with the Lower Southern colonies beneath the Chesapeake, and the island colonies in the Atlantic and Caribbean. In each case, he ultimately asserts their strong similarity to the Chesapeake colonies and the legitimacy of his developmental model theory. In his final chapter, he brings all the colonies together to explain the creation and development of an American society, and the colonial move from separate and distinct colonies to united and similar states.
The style of Greene's argument is very satisfactory; he makes no assumptions, or at least pretends not to, and fully and somewhat repetitively explains how each colony is similar to the Chesapeake and dissimilar to New England. It is constructed, therefore, so the scholarly reader can jump to the colonies of interest to him/her, skip over the others, and still fully understand the argument.
The argument itself is highly intriguing, and well grounded within the evidence he presents. One cannot help but see the merit to what he writes. That said, there are a few points of caution for the academic reader. First, Greene pays no attention whatsoever to Indians, and less attention than he should to slaves. On Indians, he acknowledges as much in his introduction; however, with the exception of Ireland, settler-Indian relations were pivotal to colonial development. What does he have to say of Bacon's Rebellion, for example, or any of a number of such conflicts? What about the fact that the settlers initially survived on Indian-grown corn, later established a considerable trading system, and even acquired land from them? One might also ask about the social development of the Indians themselves. How did colonization affect them? Greene ignores that entirely. Perhaps he considers Indians' happiness irrelevant to the overall American pursuit of happiness. Perhaps it was simply an oversight, or maybe historiography has not progressed so far as to include the Indians. Does that issue or any settler-Indian issues weaken Greene's model? Perhaps not enough to invalidate it (or to enhance it, for that matter), but enough to have merited discussion.
As to slavery, Robert Olwell writes in Masters, Slaves, and Subjects that slaves too had a social structure that changed over time. Yet, Greene says nothing about it. He discusses slavery only as far as it influenced white settlers' social development. Furthermore, the descendents of these slaves still make up a relevant percentage of the American population; thus, one cannot discuss the "formation of American culture" without addressing the slaves. Again, perhaps the social development of blacks would have had no impact on the relevancy of his model; all the same, he still should have considered it.
A second point of caution is his assertion that the wretched civilization in the Chesapeake ultimately brought about the republican virtues inherent in American government. Perhaps, but as New England scholars have long demonstrated, republicanism was intrinsic to Puritan social philosophy, and declension or no, was well-established a full century and a half before the Chesapeake adopted it.
A last point concerns the central argument Stephen Innes makes in his book, Creating the Commonwealth: The Economic Culture of Puritan New England; namely, that Puritan philosophy ushered in capitalism. Whereas the Chesapeake adopted repressive measures to stifle the overall economy in favor of elite wealth, New England largely allowed its economy to grow unhindered. Having titled his book "Pursuits of Happiness," Greene utterly fails to discuss the capitalistic nature of the foundation of that happiness: American culture, economy, and government.
Greene tackles an enormous subject and gives it a specific label - his developmental model - that by its very size is certain to have a few holes, most notably the cautions described above. Despite these three points of caution, however, Pursuits of Happiness is an extremely worthwhile book. It lends itself well to discussion of New England declension and colonial development, and certainly, Jack Greene is a historian of established and deserved repute. One may not agree with any or all of the points of his thesis, but even the most devoted student of Bernard Bailyn would do well to consider them.