- Revolutionary Friends, Fathers, and Feelings
Historiography on the American Revolution has come a very long way from the time when most historians who wrote about it focused on military events to the exclusion of much else. Warfare, of course, remains a central part of the Revolutionary story. As John W. Shy cautioned in 1976, in the wake of a fast-changing historiography, “Armed force, and nothing else, decided the outcome of the American Revolution. . . . Crude, obvious, and unappealing as this truism may be, it is still true; without war to sustain it, the Declaration of Independence would be a forgotten, abortive manifesto.” Shy’s statement, from A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence (1976), has proved influential. It is quoted here, for instance, as reprinted in the second edition (2000) of Richard D. Brown’s edited volume, Major Problems in the Era of the American Revolution, 1760–1791 (205). However, historiography on the American Revolution continues to expand beyond the battlefield. Our image of the Revolutionary era has become multifaceted and delicately layered. It now encompasses political, economic, and social history, its ideological origins, [End Page 415] questions of race and gender, and cultural studies widely defined. But there is still more to uncover.
In 2004, in Circles and Lines: The Shape of Life in Early America, a slim but groundbreaking book based on his William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization at Harvard University, John Demos put a meaningful challenge in the form of a question: “We know a great deal, by now, about the political history of the Revolution, and the intellectual history, and even the social history, in what might be called an aggregate sense. But on the other side—the personal, the emotional, the psychological—what have we really got?” His answer: we don’t have much. We certainly don’t have, he wrote, “any full-scale, frontal treatment of innerlife experience among average people who lived in and through the Revolutionary era” (51). Historians have since directed much attention to the interior world of the Revolutionary generation. The three books under review here add to this enlarged understanding of the American Revolution, although in differing ways and with mixed results.
Founding Friendships, by Cassandra A. Good (Associate Editor of the Papers of James Madison at the University of Mary Washington), investigates mixed-sex friendships between elite white men and women in the early American Republic. Several particular friendships are considered, including famous ones such as that between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail Adams (whose images grace the book’s cover), but also those between lesser-known people: for example, Charles Greely Loring, a prominent Boston lawyer and politician, and Mary Pierce, longtime co-manager of the Litchfield Female Academy. Good draws upon a variety of sources to tell her stories: correspondence, advice literature, diaries, friendship albums, period novels, poetry, and even some of the physical objects that were exchanged as gifts between these friends. Good’s view also includes today’s world, speculating at one point that “Friendships, whether same-sex or mixed-sex, are only likely to gain more importance in Americans’ lives as marriage fails to meet individual and societal needs” (192). There is much of interest in the volume, but it is also unsatisfying in some ways.
On her first page, Good states that “friendships between elite men and women helped create the social and political fabric of the new nation” (F, 1). “The American Revolution not only ushered in a new political system,” she explains, “but also spurred changes in the roles of and expectations for men and women” (3). In her conclusion, she asserts that the “equilibrium between...