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Many reference works offer compilations of critical documents covering individual liberty, local autonomy, constitutional order, and other issues that helped to shape the American political tradition. Yet few of those works are available in a form suitable for classroom use, and traditional textbooks give short shrift to these important issues.
The American Republic overcomes that knowledge gap by providing, in a single volume, critical, original documents revealing the character of American discourse on the nature and importance of local government, the purposes of federal union, and the role of religion and tradition in forming America’s drive for liberty.
The American Republic is divided into nine sections, each illustrating major philosophical, cultural, and policy positions at issue during crucial eras of American development. Readers will find documentary evidence of the purposes behind European settlement, American response to English acts, the pervasive role of religion in early American public life, and perspectives in the debate over independence.
Subsequent chapters examine the roots of American constitutionalism, Federalist and Anti-Federalist arguments concerning the need to protect common law rights, and the debates over whether the states or the federal government held final authority in determining the course of public policy in America. Also included are the discussions regarding disagreements over internal improvements and other federal measures aimed at binding the nation, particularly in the area of commerce.
The final section focuses on the political, cultural, and legal issues leading to the Civil War. Arguments and attempted compromises regarding slavery, along with laws that helped shape slavery, are highlighted. The volume ends with the prelude to the Civil War, a natural stopping-off point for studies of early American history.
By bringing together key original documents and other writings that explain cultural, religious, and historical concerns, this volume gives students, teachers, and general readers an effective way to begin examining the diversity of issues and influences that characterize American history. The result unquestionably leads to a deeper and more thorough understanding of America's political, institutional, and cultural continuity and change.
Bruce P. Frohnen is Associate Professor of Law at Ohio Northern University College of Law. He holds a J.D. from the Emory University School of Law and a Ph.D. in Government from Cornell University. Click here to print or download The American Republic index.
The Promise of Independence
Carol Sue Humphrey’s The American Revolution and the Press argues that newspapers played an important role during America’s struggle for independence by keeping Americans engaged in the war even when the fighting occurred in distant locales. From the moment that the colonials received word of Britain’s new taxes in 1764 until reports of the peace treaty arrived in 1783, the press constituted the major source of information about events and developments in the conflict with the mother country. Both Benjamin Franklin, one of the Revolution’s greatest leaders, and Ambrose Serle, a Loyalist, described the press as an “engine” that should be used to advance the cause. The efforts of Patriot printers to keep readers informed about the war helped ensure ultimate success by boosting morale and rallying Americans to the cause until victory was achieved. As Humphrey illustrates, Revolutionary-era newspapers provided the political and ideological unity that helped Americans secure their independence and create a new nation.
A Documentary Collection
Eyewitness accounts of the War of Independence by British observers and participants
The letters in this collection were written mostly by British military officers and diplomats reporting directly to their superiors in London. Many of the writers were actively engaged in fighting the Americans from 1775 until 1783; others were colonial administrators traveling through North America assessing the progress of British troops.
Beginning with reports of the surprisingly violent American response at the battles of Lexington and Concord, these letters by British army officers and soldiers initially conveyed supreme confidence. Likewise, correspondents in the Royal Navy had no reason to doubt their ultimate victory, since they understood themselves to be the world’s most formidable commercial and military fleet.
As the Revolution proceeded, the Colonists confounded the British by issuing Letters of Marque to the owners of privately held ships, which enabled them to supplement the modest colonial navy with privateers that attacked and disrupted British supply lines, cutting off needed reinforcements and provisions, including food that the colonists refused to provide. Other unorthodox tactics followed, causing increasing concern among the British, including the eventual fate of many Loyalists, some of whom had fought alongside British troops. What would befall these allies if America actually achieved independence?
The near-daily reports in this engrossing two-volume collection enable us to appreciate the familiar drama of American independence from a different standpoint, one not widely studied. Little-known details emerge, such as the fact that King George III seriously considered abdicating the throne at least twice, should independence be granted to America.
The American Revolution through British Eyes is sure to captivate anyone with an interest in America’s war for independence.
U.S. Expansion to the Gulf Coast and the Fate of the Seminole, 1763–1858
Conventional history narratives tell us that in the early years of the Republic, the United States fought three wars against the Seminole Indians and two against the Creeks. However, William Belko and the contributors to America's Hundred Years' War argue that we would do better to view these events as moments of heightened military aggression punctuating a much longer period of conflict in the Gulf Coast region.
Featuring essays on topics ranging from international diplomacy to Seminole military strategy, the volume urges us to reconsider the reasons for and impact of early U.S. territorial expansion. It highlights the actions and motivations of Indians and African Americans during the period and establishes the groundwork for research that is more balanced and looks beyond the hopes and dreams of whites.
America's Hundred Years' War offers more than a chronicle of the politics and economics of international rivalry. It provides a narrative of humanity and inhumanity, arrogance and misunderstanding, and outright bloodshed between vanquisher and vanquished as well.
An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774–1781
“An admirable analysis. It presents, in succinct form, the results of a generation of study of this chapter of our history and summarizes fairly the conclusions of that study.”—Henry Steele Commager, New York Times Book Review
Americans in Spanish West Florida, 1785-1810
The book contextualizes the 1810 rebellion, and by extension the southern frontier, within the broader Atlantic World, showing how both local factors as well as events in Europe affected lives in the Spanish borderlands. Breaking with traditional scholarship, McMichael examines contests over land and slaves as a determinant of loyalty. He draws on Spanish, French, and Anglo records to challenge scholarship that asserts a particularly “American” loyalty on the frontier whereby Anglo-American residents in West Florida, as disaffected subjects of the Spanish Crown, patiently abided until they could overthrow an alien system. Rather, it was political, social, and cultural conflicts—not nationalist ideology—that disrupted networks by which economic prosperity was gained and thus loyalty retained.
Hunting and Mastery in the Old South
Nicolas Proctor argues in Bathed in Blood that because slaves frequently accompanied white hunters into the field, whites often believed that hunting was a particularly effective venue for the demonstration of white supremacy. Slaves interpreted such interactions quite differently: they remained focused on the products of the hunt and considered the labor performed at the behest of their owners as an opportunity to improve their own condition. Whether acquired as a reward from a white hunter or as a result of their own independent—often illicit—efforts, game provided them with an important supplementary food source, an item for trade, and a measure of autonomy. By sharing their valuable resources with other slaves, slave hunters also strengthened the bonds within their own community. In a society predicated upon the constant degradation of African Americans, such simple acts of generosity became symbolic of resistance and had a cohesive effect on slave families.
Youth and Military Service in the Revolutionary War
Young Continental soldiers carried a heavy burden in the American Revolution. Their experiences of coming of age during the upheavals of war provide a novel perspective on the Revolutionary era, eliciting questions of gender, family life, economic goals, and politics. "Going for a soldier" forced young men to confront profound uncertainty, and even coercion, but also offered them novel opportunities. Although the war imposed obligations on youths, military service promised young men in their teens and early twenties alternate paths forward in life. Continental soldiers’ own youthful expectations about respectable manhood and their goals of economic competence and marriage not only ordered their experience of military service; they also shaped the fighting capacities of George Washington’s army and the course of the war.
Becoming Men of Some Consequence examines how young soldiers and officers joined the army, their experiences in the ranks, their relationships with civilians, their choices about quitting long-term military service, and their attempts to rejoin the flow of civilian life after the war. The book recovers young soldiers’ perspectives and stories from military records, wartime letters and journals, and postwar memoirs and pension applications, revealing how revolutionary political ideology intertwined with rational calculations and youthful ambitions. Its focus on soldiers as young men offers a new understanding of the Revolutionary War, showing how these soldiers’ generational struggle for their own independence was a profound force within America’s struggle for its independence.
Although he called himself merely a “printer” in his will, Benjamin Franklin could have also called himself a diplomat, a doctor, an electrician, a frontier general, an inventor, a journalist, a legislator, a librarian, a magistrate, a postmaster, a promoter, a publisher—and a humorist. John Adams wrote of Franklin, “He had wit at will. He had humor that when he pleased was pleasant and delightful . . . [and] talents for irony, allegory, and fable, that he could adapt with great skill, to the promotion of moral and political truth.” In Benjamin Franklin’s Humor, author Paul M. Zall shows how one of America’s founding fathers used humor to further both personal and national interests. Early in his career, Franklin impersonated the feisty widow Silence Dogood in a series of comically moralistic essays that helped his brother James outpace competitors in Boston’s incipient newspaper market. In the mid-eighteenth century, he displayed his talent for comic impersonation in numerous editions of Poor Richard’s Almanac, a series of pocket-sized tomes filled with proverbs and witticisms that were later compiled in Franklin’s The Way to Wealth (1758), one of America’s all-time bestselling books. Benjamin Franklin was sure to be remembered for his early work as an author, printer, and inventor, but his accomplishments as a statesman later in life firmly secured his lofty stature in American history. Zall shows how Franklin employed humor to achieve desired ends during even the most difficult diplomatic situations: while helping draft the Declaration of Independence, while securing France’s support for the American Revolution, while brokering the treaty with England to end the War for Independence, and while mediating disputes at the Constitutional Convention. He supervised and facilitated the birth of a nation with customary wit and aplomb. Zall traces the development of an acute sense of humor throughout the life of a great American. Franklin valued humor not as an end in itself but as a means to gain a competitive edge, disseminate information, or promote a program. Early in life, he wrote about timely topics in an effort to reach a mass reading class, leaving an amusing record of early American culture. Later, Franklin directed his talents toward serving his country. Regardless of its origin, the best of Benjamin Franklin’s humor transcends its initial purpose and continues to evoke undying laughter at shared human experiences.
The Politics of Violence in the American Revolutionary Era
Between Sovereignty and Anarchy considers the conceptual and political problem of violence in the early modern Anglo-Atlantic, charting an innovative approach to the history of the American Revolution. Its editors and contributors contend that existing scholarship on the Revolution largely ignores questions of power and downplays the Revolution as a contest over sovereignty. Contributors employ a variety of methodologies to examine diverse themes, ranging from how Atlantic perspectives can redefine our understanding of revolutionary origins; to the ways in which political culture, mobilization, and civil-war-like violence were part of the revolutionary process; to the fundamental importance of state formation for the history of the early republic.
The editors skillfully meld these emerging currents together to produce a new perspective on the American Revolution, revealing how America—first as colonies, then as united states—reeled between poles of anarchy and sovereignty. This interpretation—gleaned from essays on frontier bloodshed, religion, civility, slavery, loyalism, mobilization, early national political culture, and warmaking—provides a needed stimulus to a field that has not strayed beyond the bounds of “rhetoric versus reality” for more than a generation. Between Sovereignty and Anarchy raises foundational questions about how we are to view the American Revolution and the type of experimental democracy that emerged in its wake.
Contributors: Chris Beneke, Bentley University • Andrew Cayton, Miami University • Matthew Rainbow Hale, Goucher College • David C. Hendrickson, Colorado College • John C. Kotruch, University of New Hampshire • Peter C. Messer, Mississippi State University • Kenneth Owen, University of Illinois at Springfield • Jeffrey L. Pasley, University of Missouri, Columbia • Jessica Choppin Roney, Temple University • Peter Thompson, University of Oxford