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Virginia's American Revolution: From Dominion to Republic, 1776-1840

4.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0739121320
ISBN-10: 0739121324
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Editorial Reviews


In recent years, Kevin Gutzman has earned rank as one of our finest young historians of the American Founding. In Virginia's American Revolution, he calls attention to 'the old reality of American political life that the state was the primary unit of political allegiance, the chief locus of political identity, and the level at which most significant political questions were decided in the Early Republic.' Pursuing the history of the most important of the first thirteen states in light of this neglected truth, Gutzman provides a new and valuable perspective on our origins. (Clyde Wilson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, University of South Carolina, University of South Carolina)

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)

From the Back Cover

Virginia's American Revolution follows the Virginia revolutionaries from their decision for independence on May 15, 1776, through the following 60 years--when the last of them finally passed from the scene. To their surprise, the decision to break with Great Britain entailed reconsideration of virtually all of their major political and social institutions, from the established church, their aristocratic state government, and feudal land tenures to slavery and their federal relations with the other American states. Some of these issues, such as the place of the Church of England in the newly republican Virginia, received quick resolutions; others, such as the nature of the relationship between the elite and other men, were not so easily decided. All of them were considered against the backdrop of Virginia's decline from preeminence in the Revolution and early Republic to the position of just another state in the age of Jackson. By following Virginia's American Revolution from start to finish, this account shows why so many revolutionaries in the Old Dominion died doubting that their great struggle had been worth the effort.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Lexington Books (November 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0739121324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0739121320
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #745,136 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By C. Hicks on August 20, 2008
Format: Paperback
In his preface Kevin Gutzman writes, "...I wanted to consider Virginia from the state level, because my understanding of the politics (broadly understood) of the period was that state identity dominated people's consciousness in a way barely conceivable now. ...I saw that the chief theme of the [Virginia Ratification Convention] was not the kind of America ratification would make but what effect ratification would have on Virginia."

So begins an indispensible study of a particular cultural and political setting in the early days of the United States, and how the formation of this nation was understood by one state -- Virginia. From the time that England's James I promised to honor Virginia's freedom and the English rights of its citizens through the Revolutionary War and the first decades of the United States, Virginians understood themselves to be an autonomous people who had signed on to the Constitution with the primacy of their state's uniqueness and identity intact. After finishing this book one can better appreciate why, threescore and ten years later, Robert E. Lee would turn down the highest command in the U.S. Army rather than turn his sword upon his home country, Virginia.

Gutzman provides an overview of Virginia's uniquely hierarchical culture -- chiefly descendants of the Caroline kings and their servants -- and introduces the key players who shaped Virginia's understanding of and response to the Ratification Convention: George Bland, Thomson Mason, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Patrick Henry, among many others. Whether Federalist or Anti-Federalist, all parties worked to ensure Virginia's distinct identity within a non-binding contract of separate states.
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~Virginia's American Revolution: From Dominion to Republic, 1776-1840~ is a well written, erudite constitutional history of my beloved Commonwealth of Virginia from the time of the colonial-revolutionary days onward to the antebellum, post-Jacksonian years preceding the Civil War. Why Virginia? Virginia deserves attention because it was at the epicenter of the political and social life of the early United States. Prior to independence from Britain, Virginia was a country onto itself with land claims that stretched to the Pacific. After the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 to draft a new Constitution, Americans from neighboring states eyed the proceedings of the Virginia convention of 1788 watchfully as if looking in which direction to proceed with Virginia's prompting. As Patrick Henry proclaimed, "The example of Virginia is a mighty thing." The deference afforded to Virginia by her sister states in the early years of the American Republic is apparent by the number of presidents and statesman she bequeathed to the United States. Virginia's political sages included such luminaries as George Washington, Richard Bland, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Patrick Henry, Wilson Nicholas Cary and Littleton Waller Tazewell. Virginia defined her political culture with an insistence on localism and States' Rights.

Hence, author Kevin Gutzman offered a convincing and historically accurate challenge to the ascendant nationalist ideology that swept the West following Springtime Revolutions in 1848 and the American Civil War of 1861-65. Biased nationalist historiography seeks to reread events surrounding the American Revolution through the lens of nineteenth-century nationalist ideology--and the late American Civil War.
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After reading Virginia's American Revolution, From Dominion to Republic, 1776-1840 by Kevin Gutzman, I think I've answered one of the questions about the Constitution that was nagging me: Who are the parties that agreed to the Constitution? The Federal Government, the States, the American People? Taking them one at a time:

* 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.
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