- Transatlantic Radicals and the Early American Republic, and: Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement, and Political Culture in Colonial America, 1717–1775, and: Benjamin Franklin, Politician
Written analysis of the Atlantic world has existed in some form or other since the early modern utopias imagined new social formations, emergent from the contact of Old and New Worlds. The world has since had to take up the creative challenge of its predecessors in an effort to craft an analytical model worthy of those encounters. Not surprisingly, such scholarship often adopts distorted patterns that reproduce, under the guise of diagnosis, the actual dominations of those contacts. For the longest time, then, the privileged model of contact was that of North Atlantic extension, whereby imperial tentacles were traced across the water to colonies. The republican synthesizers of early American historiography, for instance, gave us a Commonwealth Atlantic in which the United States could be understood as an overseas unfolding of British political culture.
More recently, there have been attempts, from points south, to reantagonize the Atlantic. Paul Gilroy’s Black Atlantic and Enrique Dussel’s The Invention of the Americas, for example, have retotalized the ocean in light of basic, formational conflicts, in these instances giving us salutary and sweeping reformulations of modernity determined by African and Indigenous existence and resistance. Extension has effectively met counterforces—not simply defensive ones, either: in fundamental ways the Atlantic has been recrossed from what was the other side, and Europe has begun to be reprovincialized. Such interventions promise to be vital and guiding correctives for the next generation of Atlantic scholarship. U.S. American Studies, for instance, will have to move beyond the accounts of othering that proliferated with the quincentennial, and, building on the New Native American historiography, acknowledge Native Americans as cultural, political, and economic agents. The implications of Herbert Aptheker’s American Negro Slave Revolts (1943) have yet to be realized as well: now may be the time. But it’s also not too soon to [End Page 527] return to the question of European transit—and specifically the transplantation of European antagonisms across the water. The three works reviewed here, all exploring an Atlantic Pennsylvania, elucidate some of the promises of, and challenges for, North Atlantic historiography in the coming decades.
Jennings’s study of Franklin addresses the surprisingly neglected details of Franklin’s political career from the 1730s to the eve of the Revolution, with emphasis upon the important 1750s and 1760s. The premise here is that Franklin’s political battles against the Proprietary forces within Pennsylvania directly informed the later battles with George III: through his political career, Franklin “became more than a Pennsylvanian—he became the first American” (16). What follows, then, is a magnificently detailed chronicle of Franklin’s civil and public life in Philadelphia, from his early boosterism, to his careers as assemblyman and Indian diplomat, to his crucial experiences as a colonial agent overseas. Jennings’s accounts of the 1747 Association and the 1749 Academy of Philadelphia, for instance, enrich the Autobiography’s bland accounts of the same to show how these projects, execution of which hinged upon “a complex of organizations” (78), were vital to Franklin’s development as “a political animal” (71). Later chapters stress the importance of the 1737 Walking Purchase (the Proprietary fraud enacted upon the Delawares), the Seven Years War, and the Paxton Riots of 1763–64, complicated events and processes with determinant consequences for pre-Revolutionary Pennsylvania. The concluding chapters explore Franklin’s apprenticeship in imperial politics and his mutations from oppositional assemblyman to Royalist to Rebel—again transformations symptomatically overlooked in Franklin hagiography.
What can readers glean from this meticulous and polemical reconstruction of Franklin’s middle period? Two patterns stand out in Jennings’s narrative. First is the tremendous importance of institutional innovations during...