New Books | American History and the Enlightenment
As these six books underscore, America has always been a complicated place. All the best for a Happy Election Day! –CH
From the University of Georgia Press:
Jennifer Goloboy, Charleston and the Emergence of Middle-Class Culture in the Revolutionary Era (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2016), 208 pages, ISBN: 978-0820349961, $55.
Too often, says Jennifer Goloboy, we equate being middle class with ‘niceness’—a set of values frozen in the antebellum period and centered on long-term economic and social progress and a close, nurturing family life. Goloboy’s case study of merchants in Charleston, South Carolina, looks to an earlier time to establish the roots of middle-class culture in America. She argues for a definition more applicable to the ruthless pursuit of profit in the early republic. To be middle class then was to be skilled at survival in the market economy.
What prompted cultural shifts in the early middle class, Goloboy shows, were market conditions. In Charleston, deference and restraint were the bywords of the colonial business climate, while rowdy ambition defined the post-Revolutionary era, which in turn gave way to institution building and professionalism in antebellum times. Goloboy’s research also supports a view of the Old South as neither precapitalist nor isolated from the rest of American culture, and it challenges the idea that post-Revolutionary Charleston was a port in decline by reminding us of a forgotten economic boom based on slave trading, cotton exporting, and trading as a neutral entity amid warring European states. This fresh look at Charleston’s merchants lets us rethink the middle class in light of the new history of capitalism and its commitment to reintegrating the Old South into the world economy.
Jennifer L. Goloboy is an independent scholar based in Minneapolis, specializing in the history of the early American middle class. She is the editor of Industrial Revolution: People and Perspectives. Goloboy earned her PhD in the history of American civilization from Harvard University.
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From Basic Books:
Nicholas Nicholas Guyatt, Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation (New York: Basic Books, 2016), 416 pages, ISBN: 978-0465018413, $30.
Why did the founding fathers fail to include blacks and Indians in their cherished proposition that “all men are created equal”? The usual answer is racism, but the reality is more complex and unsettling. In Bind Us Apart, historian Nicholas Guyatt argues that, from the Revolution through the Civil War, most white liberals believed in the unity of all human beings. But their philosophy faltered when it came to the practical work of forging a color-blind society. Unable to convince others—and themselves—that racial mixing was viable, white reformers began instead to claim that people of color could only thrive in separate republics: in Native states in the American West or in the West African colony of Liberia. Herein lie the origins of “separate but equal.” Decades before Reconstruction, America’s liberal elite was unable to imagine how people of color could become citizens of the United States. Throughout the nineteenth century, Native Americans were pushed farther and farther westward, while four million slaves freed after the Civil War found themselves among a white population that had spent decades imagining that they would live somewhere else. Essential reading for anyone disturbed by America’s ongoing failure to achieve true racial integration, Bind Us Apart shows conclusively that “separate but equal” represented far more than a southern backlash against emancipation—it was a founding principle of our nation.
Nicholas Guyatt is a university lecturer in history at the University of Cambridge. He is a regular contributor to The Nation, London Review of Books, and The Guardian. Guyatt lives in Cambridge, England.
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From The University of North Carolina Press:
Robert Parkinson, The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, 2016), 768 pages, ISBN: 978-1469626635, $45.
When the Revolutionary War began, the odds of a united, continental effort to resist the British seemed nearly impossible. Few on either side of the Atlantic expected thirteen colonies to stick together in a war against their cultural cousins. In this pathbreaking book, Robert Parkinson argues that to unify the patriot side, political and communications leaders linked British tyranny to colonial prejudices, stereotypes, and fears about insurrectionary slaves and violent Indians. Manipulating newspaper networks, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and their fellow agitators broadcast stories of British agents inciting African Americans and Indians to take up arms against the American rebellion. Using rhetoric like “domestic insurrectionists” and “merciless savages,” the founding fathers rallied the people around a common enemy and made racial prejudice a cornerstone of the new Republic. In a fresh reading of the founding moment, Parkinson demonstrates the dual projection of the “common cause.” Patriots, through both an ideological appeal to popular rights and a wartime movement against a host of British-recruited slaves and Indians, forged a racialized, exclusionary model of American citizenship.
Robert G. Parkinson is assistant professor of history at Binghamton University.
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From Yale UP:
Steve Pincus, The Heart of the Declaration: The Founders’ Case for an Activist Government (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), 224 pages, ISBN: 978-0300216189, $26.
From one election cycle to the next, a defining question continues to divide the country’s political parties: Should the government play a major or a minor role in the lives of American citizens? The Declaration of Independence has long been invoked as a philosophical treatise in favor of limited government. Yet the bulk of the document is a discussion of policy, in which the Founders outlined the failures of the British imperial government. Above all, they declared, the British state since 1760 had done too little to promote the prosperity of its American subjects. Looking beyond the Declaration’s frequently cited opening paragraphs, Steve Pincus reveals how the document is actually a blueprint for a government with extensive powers to promote and protect the people’s welfare. By examining the Declaration in the context of British imperial debates, Pincus offers a nuanced portrait of the Founders’ intentions with profound political implications for today.
Steve Pincus is the Bradford Durfee Professor of History at Yale University. He is the author of several books on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British history.
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From Johns Hopkins UP:
Richard Alan Ryerson, John Adams’s Republic: The One, the Few, and the Many (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016), 576 pages, ISBN: 978-1421419220, $60.
Scholars have examined John Adams’s writings and beliefs for generations, but no one has brought such impressive credentials to the task as Richard Alan Ryerson in John Adams’s Republic. The editor-in-chief of the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Adams Papers project for nearly two decades, Ryerson offers readers of this magisterial book a fresh, firmly grounded account of Adams’s political thought and its development.
Of all the founding fathers, Ryerson argues, John Adams may have worried the most about the problem of social jealousy and political conflict in the new republic. Ryerson explains how these concerns, coupled with Adams’s concept of executive authority and his fear of aristocracy, deeply influenced his political mindset. He weaves together a close analysis of Adams’s public writings, a comprehensive chronological narrative beginning in the 1760s, and an exploration of the second president’s private diary, manuscript autobiography, and personal and family letters, revealing Adams’s most intimate political thoughts across six decades. How, Adams asked, could a self-governing country counter the natural power and influence of wealthy elites and their friends in government? Ryerson argues that he came to believe a strong executive could hold at bay the aristocratic forces that posed the most serious dangers to a republican society. The first study ever published to closely examine all of Adams’s political writings, from his youth to his long retirement, John Adams’s Republic should appeal to everyone who seeks to know more about America’s first major political theorist.
Richard Alan Ryerson, the former academic director and historian of the David Library of the American Revolution, was the editor-in-chief of the Adams Papers from 1983 to 2001.
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From Yale UP:
Caroline Winterer, American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), 368 pages, ISBN: 978-0300192575, $35.
The accepted myth of the ‘American Enlightenment’ suggests that the rejection of monarchy and establishment of a new republic in the United States in the eighteenth century was the realization of utopian philosophies born in the intellectual salons of Europe and radiating outward to the New World. In this revelatory work, Stanford historian Caroline Winterer argues that a national mythology of a unitary, patriotic era of enlightenment in America was created during the Cold War to act as a shield against the threat of totalitarianism and that Americans followed many paths toward political, religious, scientific, and artistic enlightenment in the 1700s that were influenced by European models in more complex ways than commonly thought. Winterer’s book strips away our modern inventions of the American national past, exploring which of our ideas and ideals are truly rooted in the eighteenth century and which are inventions and mystifications of more recent times.
Caroline Winterer is Anthony P. Meier Family Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Humanities Center. The author of three previous books, she received an American Ingenuity Award from the Smithsonian Institution.