- Unfinished Revolution: The Early American Republic in a British World
Unfinished Revolution is a book that, better than any before, details how divisive, difficult, intense, and traumatic the American break from Britain really was. Yes, the American Revolution ended one hundred and sixty-nine years of knowing Britain was “home,” but it only began the process of finding a national “self” in contradistinction to proud membership in the British Empire. Despite winning the Revolutionary War and attaining both political autonomy and some degree of federative coherence, Americans found the British to be everywhere, condescendingly constrictive, confining, dismissive, and hollowing out. Dr. Haynes points out how “to a considerable extent, Americans still felt anchored in a British world, and [were] acutely aware of their second-class standing within it” (22). British standards of literary and theatrical excellence remained deeply rooted in all sections [End Page 308] of the country. British banking and manufacturing strength was palpable in myriad ways, both shaping and stunting the American economy. British interests and issues born of British influence and values suffused politics. American territorial ambition to the west, south, and north repeatedly ran up against the hard reality of British power, diplomacy, and territorial presence.
Of course, we have heard something of this before, but nowhere has the theme been pursued with such coherence, thoroughness, and detail. Dr. Haynes achieves this by grounding his book in the tension between Anglophilia and Anglophobia that he finds permeating the American quest for national identity from 1812 through the 1850s. His chief emphasis is on the anti-British side of the conflict, which does much to reflect the anxious, fearful, and pugnacious side of American behavior and which often gets lost beneath the narrative of a willful, joyous, and confident young republic striding westward behind the Goddess of Liberty. What reinforces Dr. Haynes interpretation is his insistence that we should look at the United States experience during these decades as that of a postcolonial, developing nation like others that have had similar birthing and childhood experiences. It is the richness of detail and thoroughness of the book, however, that makes this work such an admirable monograph. Dr. Haynes delves into the worlds of travel accounts, literature, and drama with a contagious enthusiasm and an eye for the telling quotation or expressive incident. He explores various communities of moral certainty, marked self-interest and hypocritical posturing with a deft touch. His larger sense of the geopolitics of the northern, southern, and western peripheries, as well as the more familiar political theaters of north and south reinforce the argument that the British-American dimension is fundamental to any sound evaluation of America’s first half century.
Texas, of course, is central to the story of the 1830s and ’40s. We have long known a good deal about the details that inform the relationship between Stephen F. Austin’s colony, its independence, and simultaneous dealings with Mexican and American governments. Dr. Haynes’s account complicates this narrative further with his injection of more prominent Anglophobic-Anglophilic and British state presences. This is an account that adds to the valuable and useable writings on Texas history by reinforcing what Texas history often resists: the credible contextualization of the colony, republic, and state within the larger antebellum cosmos.
Reservations are few. However, it seems likely that the relationship between Anglophobia and Anglophilia is more of a continuum with a lot of traffic moving back and forth with snarls occurring at various points and times on that axis, rather than a dichotomous one. To change the metaphor, the membrane between the two (where there was one) was quite permeable, imparting a fluidity that the book’s structure and central argument cannot accommodate. There is also no meaningful conceptual contribution to the “developing nation” literature. But these are caveats which, one might argue, demand different books. On his own ground, Dr. Haynes has written an excellent historical monograph: important to the field, well written, provoking of both interest and questions...