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The Articles of Confederation

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

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Atlantic Loyalties

Americans in Spanish West Florida, 1785-1810

Andrew McMichael

Integrating social, cultural, economic, and political history, this is a study of the factors that grounded—or swayed—the loyalties of non-Spaniards living under Spanish rule on the southern frontier. In particular, Andrew McMichael looks at the colonial Spanish administration’s attitude toward resident Americans. The Spanish borderlands systems of slavery and land ownership, McMichael shows, used an efficient system of land distribution and government patronage that engendered loyalty and withstood a series of conflicts that tested, but did not shatter, residents’ allegiance. McMichael focuses on the Baton Rouge district of Spanish West Florida from 1785 through 1810, analyzing why resident Anglo-Americans, who had maintained a high degree of loyalty to the Spanish Crown through 1809, rebelled in 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.

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Bathed in Blood

Hunting and Mastery in the Old South

Nicolas W. Proctor

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.

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Becoming Men of Some Consequence

Youth and Military Service in the Revolutionary War

John A. Ruddiman

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.

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Benjamin Franklin's Humor

Paul Zall

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.

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Between Sovereignty and Anarchy

The Politics of Violence in the American Revolutionary Era

Edited by Patrick Griffin, Robert G. Ingram, Peter S. Onuf, and Brian Schoen

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

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Beyond Confederation

Origins of the Constitution and American National Identity

Richard Beeman

Beyond Confederation scrutinizes the ideological background of the U.S. Constitution, the rigors of its writing and ratification, and the problems it both faced and provoked immediately after ratification. The essays in this collection question much of the heritage of eighteenth-century constitutional thought and suggest that many of the commonly debated issues have led us away from the truly germane questions. The authors challenge many of the traditional generalizations and the terms and scope of that debate as well.
The contributors raise fresh questions about the Constitution as it enters its third century. What happened in Philadelphia in 1787, and what happened in the state ratifying conventions? Why did the states--barely--ratify the Constitution? What were Americans of the 1789s attempting to achieve? The exploratory conclusions point strongly to an alternative constitutional tradition, some of it unwritten, much of it rooted in state constitutional law; a tradition that not only has redefined the nature and role of the Constitution but also has placed limitations on its efficacy throughout American history.
The authors are Lance Banning, Richard Beeman, Stephen Botein, Richard D. Brown, Richard E. Ellis, Paul Finkelman, Stanley N. Katz, Ralph Lerner, Drew R. McCoy, John M. Murrin, Jack N. Rakove, Janet A. Riesman, and Gordon S. Wood.

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Beyond the Farm

National Ambitions in Rural New England

By J. M. Opal

During the first half-century of American independence, a fundamental change in the meaning and morality of ambition emerged in American culture. Long stigmatized as a dangerous passion that led people to pursue fame at the expense of duty, ambition also raised concerns among American Revolutionaries who espoused self-sacrifice. After the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and the creation of the federal republic in 1789, however, a new ethos of nation-making took hold in which ambition, properly cultivated, could rescue talent and virtue from the parochial needs of the family farm. Rather than an apology for an emerging market culture of material desire and commercial dealing, ambition became a civic project—a concerted reply to the localism of provincial life. By thus attaching itself to the national self-image during the early years of the Republic, before the wrenching upheavals of the Industrial Revolution, ambitious striving achieved a cultural dominance that future generations took for granted.

Beyond the Farm not only describes this transformation as a national effort but also explores it as a personal journey. Centered on the lives of six aspiring men from the New England countryside, the book follows them from youthful days full of hope and unrest to eventual careers marked by surprising success and crushing failure. Along the way, J. M. Opal recovers such intimate dramas as a young man's abandonment by his self-made parents, a village printer's dreams of small-town fame, and a headstrong boy's efforts to both surpass and honor his family. By relating the vast abstractions of nation and ambition to the everyday milieus of home, work, and school, Beyond the Farm reconsiders the roots of American individualism in vivid detail and moral complexity.

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A Biographical Dictionary of Early American Jews

Colonial Times through 1800

Joseph R. Rosenbloom

Here is a virtually complete list of persons identifiable as Jews in America by 1800, the result of a thorough search of manuscript materials and published literature for the names of Jews who lived in America (including Canada up to 1783) during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. No other study provides comparable information for such an ethnic group in this country.

Each entry in this dictionary is accompanied by birth and death dates and places and other biographical data so far as they are available. The biographies vary from two lines recording the birth of an unnamed stillborn child or the presence of a transient in New York City to half-column summaries of the careers of well-known persons. Included are converts to Christianity and, in some instances, their children. Persons whose names or associations have resulted in their being incorporated into earlier lists of "Jews" are noted also, with an attempt to ascertain their identity.

Especially noteworthy is the small number of Jews in America during the two centuries before 1800. Only about 4,000 Jews, of whom 1,500 were native-born, have been identified in this dictionary -- and not all of these positively. Perhaps another 800 have been omitted, Rosenbloom points out, because their names are not included in extant records. Even so, it would appear that the percentage of Jews in the total colonial population (less than three million in 1783) was infinitesimal.

Students of the American colonial period will find this book a useful tool for ascertaining the national origins of American Jews, their occupations, their part in the Revolution, their places of settlement, and other historical and sociological data.

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The Blind African Slave

Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nicknamed Jeffrey Brace

Jeffrey Brace, as told to Benjamin F. Prentiss, Esq.

The Blind African Slave recounts the life of Jeffrey Brace (né Boyrereau Brinch), who was born in West Africa around 1742. Captured by slave traders at the age of sixteen, Brace was transported to Barbados, where he experienced the shock and trauma of slave-breaking and was sold to a New England ship captain. After fighting as an enslaved sailor for two years in the Seven Years War, Brace was taken to New Haven, Connecticut, and sold into slavery. After several years in New England, Brace enlisted in the Continental Army in hopes of winning his manumission. After five years of military service, he was honorably discharged and was freed from slavery. As a free man, he chose in 1784 to move to Vermont, the first state to make slavery illegal. There, he met and married an African woman, bought a farm, and raised a family. Although literate, he was blind when he decided to publish his life story, which he narrated to a white antislavery lawyer, Benjamin Prentiss, who published it in 1810. Upon his death in 1827, Brace was a well-respected abolitionist. In this first new edition since 1810, Kari J. Winter provides a historical introduction, annotations, and original documents that verify and supplement our knowledge of Brace's life and times.

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