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  • Empire and Nation: The American Revolution in the Atlantic World
  • Edward Countryman (bio)
Empire and Nation: The American Revolution in the Atlantic World. Edited by Eliga H. Gould and Peter S. Onuf. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. Pp. viii, 381. Cloth, $49.95.)

When is a festschrift not a festschrift? The answer is when it refuses to call itself one. So beware, I will reveal the secret of Empire and Nation: In very thin disguise, this book is a thoroughly deserved festschrift for Johns Hopkins historian and long-time Doktorvater, Jack P. Greene.

Edited by two of his students, Empire and Nation emerged from a conference to honor Greene and includes only a few contributions from scholars who did not work with him. The book rightly includes very recent students, as well as famous ones. Why Johns Hopkins Press (of all publishers) could not be convinced to publish a collection of essays celebrating a premier Johns Hopkins University historian is beyond me. Greene's seminar has produced wave upon wave of major historians (67, the last I heard). Any early Americanist is bound to be interested in a volume that brings together many of the best of them, writing around themes that both Greene and they have developed.

As its title suggests, Empire and Nation takes an Atlantic perspective, which is very much in accord with Greene's own long trajectory. There are exceptions, especially among the six essays that make up Part II, "Society, Politics, and Culture in the New Nation," but Part I ("Reconstituting the Empire") and Part III ("The American Revolution and the Atlantic World") both span the ocean, one way or another.

In Part I the Atlantic is the familiar sea that Britannia ruled. Two of the contributors, David Hendrickson and Don Higginbotham, are among the volume's three non-Greene students. Writing about "The First Union," Hendrickson challenges Richard B. Morris, Justice Joseph Story, and (implicitly) Abraham Lincoln. He attacks their nationalist notion that a sovereign, proto-unified American people emerged in 1776, making the argument that "the People" created both the states and the union, as opposed to the union being created by the separate states. Drawing upon a lifetime of studying the revolution as a military conflict, Higginbotham sidesteps Hendrickson's either/or formulation, linking the formation of the American national state to the needs of the Revolutionary War, rather than to an act of will at the moment of independence. In Hendrickson's formulation and in Higginbotham's (or for that matter in just about any treatment dealing with the creation of American state [End Page 668] power), the "Atlantic" dimension turns on the transfer of authority from the British crown.

Coeditor Eliga Gould deals with Britain itself, developing Linda Colley's now-familiar argument that far from being solid and ancient, British authority and identity were fragile and new. Against that background, fearful of renewed war and imagining a Pax Britannica, ministers in London provoked a needless conflict about colonial rights and Parliamentary power that led ultimately to war. Surprisingly, Gould does not cite Theodore Draper's A Struggle for Power (New York, 1996), which develops the same theme. Richard Ryerson shows John Adams straddling the Atlantic conceptually, trying to work out the really transformative qualities of American republican thought while clinging to remnants of the idea of monarchy. Ellen Holmes Pearson's essay on republicanism and the reception of English Common Law seems to point toward a major book on legal thought and practice in the early Republic. I look forward to its appearance.

Except for Maurice Bric's essay on Irish immigrants to Philadelphia, the essays in Part II abandon the Atlantic format for a strictly American point of view. Following Greene, Steven Sarson suggests that the Revolution did not bring large-scale transformation, at least in the tobacco-growing Chesapeake. Mary Schweitzer finds a paradox in the ratification in the Great Valley of Pennsylvania, as its residents formed "the strongest Antifederalist coalition" (116) while Shenandoah farmers and planters became convinced Federalists. Melvin Yazawa, Marc Harris, and Robert M. Calhoon (the third non-Greene student contributor) discuss rhetoric, civil society, and religion in the early...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-0620
Print ISSN
0275-1275
Pages
pp. 668-670
Launched on MUSE
2006-11-09
Open Access
No
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