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founding
Nov 19, 2023Liked by Conundrum Cluster

One of the reasons why I think you liked the book is that it synthesized a large body of scholarship from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, that rejected progressive-era historiography.

In the early 20th century the "progressive historians" argued in favor of an American Revolution that was based on class concerns. For historians like Charles Beard "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States" [1913], Arthur M. Schlesinger "Colonial Merchants and the American Revolution" [1918], John C. Miller "Sam Adams, Pioneer in Propaganda" [1936], etc. etc., the main driving forces of the Revolution and its aftermath was economic self-interest. The framers wanted a Constitution because it would ensure the repayment of war loans (which they held). Merchants supported the revolutionary movement until independence threatened their pocketbooks. All talk of liberty, rights, etc. was mere propaganda that glossed over more immediate financial concerns.

As you can see, its little surprise that this interpretation of the American founding was getting published at the same time as all the stuff you've been writing about was going on.

This view of the Revolution largely held sway until the 1950s and 1960s when a new generation of historians - many WWII veterans - both debunked the progressive interpretation and put a new one it its place (which is now known as the "republican paradigm.") In 1958 Forrest McDonald published "We the People: The Economic Origins of the Constitution" which overturned Beard's thesis by showing that no, the people who spoke in favor of the Constitution were not major holders of Rev War debt.

In the 1960s and 1970s three books were published that fundamentally reoriented the standard interpretation of the Revolution towards one that was based in deeply-held ideals (both rational, and conspiratorial) about the importance of a "small-r" republican society centered around virtuous citizens. These were Bernard Bailyn's "Ideological Origins of the American Revolution" [1967], Gordon Wood's "The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787" [1969], and J.G.A. Pocock's "The Machiavellian Moment" [1975].

The sea-change in historical interpretation led to a huge outpouring of new works, especially around the bicentennial, which led - in the early 1980s - towards a call for "synthesis." I.E. get some historian to write a big book that ties together all of these recent threads. As such, Oxford University Press launched its American History series which aimed to get a senior-scholar to put out a big tome on a small section of American history. As you can see from the list (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_History_of_the_United_States), these are pretty well-known volumes, especially McPherson's on the Civil War.

So, when Middlekauff set out to write Glorious Cause in the late 70s/early 80s, he had a wealth of recent scholarship that emphasized all the things you talked about which made the American Revolution so impressive.

Finally, even though there's a lot of B.S. out there and "Hi, Historian Here" preening on social media, there are a lot of people doing great work.

In addition to Bailyn cited above (probably the most important book tbh), I'd recommend the following recent volumes to get a fuller understanding of the era of the American Revolution:

1. Andrew O'Shaughnessy, "The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution and the Fate of Empire" [Yale, 2014]. As you said, Middlekauff does a good job describing British motivations. Here, O'Shaughnessy gives a deeper dive, esp. wrt military strategy. Excellent book.

2. David Hackett Fischer, "Washington's Crossing" [Oxford, 2004]. Really gets into Washington's leadership, esp. in the dark days of late 1776 when everything's going tits up. Really great for its portrayal of the Continental Army portrayed the British *and* the Hessians. He's a bit too credulous in crediting James Wilkinson's memoir for some of the Battle of Princeton events, but overall an expert use of evidence.

3. Richard Beeman, "The Varieties of Political Experience in Eighteenth-Century America" [Penn, 2006]. As Middlekauff really understood, the American political experiment in republican government was based in generations of representative colonial assemblies. Beeman does a great job comparing the differing governing structures across the American colonies in the 1700s. Essential for both understanding how regions with diverging cultures and political establishments could find common cause.

4. Kathleen DuVal, "Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution" [Penguin, 2015]. Most histories of the Revolution tend to focus on the east coast, and with good reason. DuVal really shows that the conflict itself was both global in nature, and pursued across the frontier of North America, esp. in the Gulf Coast.

5. Robert G. Parkinson, "The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution" [UNC, 2016]. Now, before you go "Craftsman, that's woke BS. Boo. Hiss." Hear me out. By going through what must be every Rev War era newspaper, Parkinson really shows how the print media created a narrative of American nationhood that was tied to the savagery of native warfare and slave uprisings. This in turn, he argues, spun out of control of the propagandists (echoing earlier Progressive-Era historians) to fuel American racism. Essential for fully understanding the importance of the media in shaping a narrative even in that era.

6. Michael Blaakman, "Speculation Nation: Land Mania in the Revolutionary American Republic" [Penn, 2023]. Speculative capitalism helped shape the core of the American republic and its political concerns. And, if you read a bit against the grain, that's a good thing.

(heck. Maybe I should write a list...)

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Slop and trash for free subscribers! Your point that the rise of the middle class and upper middle class, such as happened in the American Revolution, really is the cataylst that ignites the flames of societal, political, economic and organizational change. Your message resonated with me, as you intended. So, all you broke unpaid subscribers better get to work and go back to school and if you're an ugly bastard, marry a liberal woman then convert her.

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founding

Thanks for this, it was great! Echoing what the other commenters said about bailyn, he is worth reading. His “ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson” is a compliment to ideological origins from a loyalist standpoint

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Nov 19, 2023Liked by Conundrum Cluster

I've had this in my kindle wishlist. I will read this once I finish Days of Rage.

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I’ve heard of this book being a good one on the American War for Independence.

What about another one I’ve heard talked about by my friends called “Ideological Origins of the American Revolution”? Would you recommend that one as well?

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Nov 20, 2023Liked by Conundrum Cluster

This was an excellent grovecast.

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Nov 19, 2023Liked by Conundrum Cluster

I really enjoyed this book shortly after it was published. Parasitically listening to the podcast makes me want to read it again, just have to pluck it off the bookshelf and knock the dust off of it.

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If you haven't watched the "Good Thing, Bad Thing?" series of videos on various revolutions (French, Russian, Chinese) then I can't take your opinion on anything seriously

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founding

Reading this now. It is awesome! Thank you for recommending

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