Virginia's American Revolution: From Dominion to Republic, 1776-1840
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Gutzman displays a detailed, even at times sympathetic (though not uncritical) understanding that many readers should find particularly worthwhile. -- ., N-Net, May 2008
In short, Virginia's American Revolution is not only an invaluable contribution to the scholarly literature, but it is also a treasure trove for those who would recapture the original American republic., Lewrockwell.Com
Gutzman describes how Virginia's independence initiated the replacement of a monarchical society with a republican one. In the most important and original part of the book, Gutzman argues that Virginians ratified the Constitution in 1788 only because they understood it to establish a nonbinding compact of states wherein Virginia still controlled its own destiny. By looking at early national Virginia through a state rather than a federal lens, Gutzman brings a less celebrated cast of characters to the fore. -- Stuart Leibiger, Journal of American History, June 2009
Kevin R. C. Gutzman's study of Virginia in the early republic is the sad story of how the most influential of the thirteen colonies fell under the sway of a clique of cranky reactionaries and set itself on a course to disaster. Virginia's American Revolution might be called history from the middle out. Gutzman has produced a prodigiously researched and useful account of a stratum of political leadership that is often overlooked., Journal of Southern History, August 2009
Kevin Gutzman's important new book shows how Virginian patriots sought to secure provincial liberties and create a new American union in the Old Dominion's image. Challenging the conventional nationalist bias in Revolutionary historiography, Gutzman points the way toward a broader, more compelling interpretation of the history of the federal republic in its formative decades. Lucidly written and powerfully argued,Virginia's American Revolution is a superb addition to the literature. -- Peter S. Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor, University of Virginia, and author of Jefferson's Empire: The Language of American Nat
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Dr. Gutzman introduces you to some key players in Virginia politics that played an important part in the formation of our country, but that are rarely discussed in detail in other works. People such as John Taylor of Caroline, George Mason and Patrick Henry.
Without a doubt, this is the best book that I have read on the early politics of our country and the leading role that Virginia continued to play through Madison's presidency and the Virginia
Resolutions of 1798. Written by James Madison in defiance of the Alien and Sedition Acts and followed by Madison's Report of 1800. Kevin Gutzman provides a detailed description of events during this time frame and presents it both accurately and thoroughly enjoyable writing style.
You owe it to yourself to read this book if you have any interest in the events of this time period and the first mention of interposition and nullification.
* The Federal Government was created by the Constitution. It didn't exist when the Constitution was written, debated or ratified, so it is not a party to the agreement. Rather, it is a creation of the Constitution.
* The preamble of the Constitution starts off with the words "We the People of the United States..". However, this is a bit of hyperbole. The Constitution was drafted not by The People but by a few dozen individuals who were sent to Philadelphia by their individual state governments. And, not all states even bothered to participate. Rhode Island sent no delegates. Furthermore, the Constitution was not ratified by the American People. It was ratified by the states in state-by-state conventions and went into effect when nine states ratified. Rhode Island held out for four years before ratifying.
* That leaves the states. And, indeed, one could argue that The People of each state ratified the Constitution via their individual state conventions. Some of my confusion comes from the changing interpretation of the phrase "the United States". Currently we would say, "the United States is ...". In 1787 people would have said "the United States are...". The change from the plural (indicating the several individual states) to the singular (indicating one country) clarified this issue to me. So, "We the People of the United States" in the Constitution's preamble really meant (in 1787) "We the People of the (individual) United States."
Dr. Gutzman presents a number of fascinating, but, I suspect, not widely known facts from Virginia's early history:
* Richard Bland's "An Inquiry into the Rights of the English Colonies" (1766) asserted that in 1607 King James I recognized the rights of the original Virginia colonists to legislate for themselves. Bland therefore concluded that Virginia was not bound by any law enacted by Parliament after 1607. Bland's ideas were adopted by Jefferson and became an important basis for the American Revolution.
* Virginia's first state constitution, May 1776, was the first written constitution in world history. It is a fascinating document. Written before the American Declaration of Independence, it declares and justifies Virginia's independence from Britain. Article 3 claims the right of revolution whenever the government failed to provide for: (1) "Protection and security of the people", (2) "The greatest degree of happiness and safety", and (3) "Security against the dangers of maladministration". Virginia claimed that a government must meet all three conditions as a prerequisite for creating a duty of loyalty and obedience by the governed. Article 5 placed term limits on all elective offices on the logic that "If rule by Parliament is not self rule, then neither is rule by career politicians."
* Participation in politics was limited to property owners. In addition to opposing taxation without representation, Virginia also opposed representation without taxation.
* Patrick Henry was the dominant figure in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1776 until he was elected governor. He was the original populist politician, cancelling taxes to curry favor, and votes, with hard pressed farmers whose crops had failed. When James Madison left the US Congress to take up a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, his initiatives were largely blocked by Henry. To clear his way, Madison supported Henry's election as governor (Virginia's governors were then elected by the vote of both house of the state legislature). Madison's motivation in organizing the Constitutional Convention in 1787 was at least in part to create a (federal/national) power base from which to oppose Henry. This may explain in part the meanderings of Madison's career from Federalist (~1787-89) to Republican/Anti-Federalist (1790s through the Jefferson Administration, 1801-9) to reborn Federalist (within the Republican Party) during his own administration (1809-1817).
* Between 1787 and 1840, Virginia declined from the largest, most populous, and richest state to a second tier state, at best. Part of that decline was due to the cession of Kentucky and Virginia's claims to territory north of the Ohio River. Part was due to the migration of large numbers of Virginians to the Old Southwest (Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana) where land was both cheaper and more fertile.
* Even before the Civil War, western Virginia was straining its bonds to the eastern part of the state. The west was faster growing but underrepresented in the state government. In addition to unequal apportionment of seats in the legislature, Virginia's voter qualifications favored large freeholders at the expense of smaller householders, merchants, and mechanics who constituted a larger portion of the Western population. The west favored internal development projects such as roads and canals which the eastern-dominated government refused to fund. Slavery was a minor factor in the western economy but a significant one in the eastern.
Virginia's American Revolution was written for a reader with more than a cursory knowledge of early American history. The sentence structure is occasionally overly complicated. However, it is a short book, 200 pages including notes, and well worth the effort required to read it.
Through this much needed effort, the author makes it remarkably clear to the reader that our current singular American state was never intended to be created at all, and that the parties least interested in forming a new, unified "nation" were, in many cases, the same famous Virginia politicians and philosophers we now count as the American Founders. Instead of red-white-and-blue chest-pounding, Mr. Gutzman provides readers with a thorough account of the actual motivations and aspirations of Virginia's brightest minds (and richest landowners), how those intentions shaped the Union Constitution, and how the dreams of many of these men quickly began to evaporate as the unintended consequences of the new Federation began to settle in.
Anyone interested in America's Constitutional, colonial, or confederate history (or fed-up with our contemporary federal hydra) will find this book to be a tremendous read, especially for its complete rejection of the ridiculously inaccurate Union-as-State narrative, which has practically become the exclusive account of our country's founding. I would also recommend this book to any politically interested American who counts himself as the resident of a state -- which, excluding those unfortunate enough to live in Washington, D.C., is all of us.
4 stars instead of 5 only because it requires the reader to come in armed with at least some preexisting knowledge of the issues discussed. For an accessible primer on the topic, I'd suggest another of Mr. Gutzman's works, "The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution."