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138 Canadian Review of American Studies By focusing on workers who were poor, unskilled, and largely powerless, Way has supplied an important corrective to labour history's usual emphasis upon skilled workers and their often successful efforts to build strong communities and wring concessions from employers. Way brings home to us the darker side of labour's story. David L. Lightner University olAlberta Robert A. Gross, ed. In Debt to Shays: The Bicentennial of an Agrarian Rebellion. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993. Pp. xiv +418, notes, illustrations, and index. In September 1786, a former Continental Army captain named Daniel Shays and a group of approximately five hundred sympathizers successfully closed the Massachusetts Supreme Court, which was meeting that month in Springfield , a market town in the centre of the state. The following February, Shays and his followers tried unsuccessfully to storm the central government 's military arsenal 1 which, coincidentally, was located in the same town. These two events, along with a number of less well known clashes between back-country farmers and the Massachusetts government that took place at approximately the same time, have come to be known, rather grandly, as "Shays's Rebellion." Most interpretations of these events have focused on the motives of the protagonists. Historians sympathetic to the Shaysites have customarily reviled the Massachusetts government as tyrannical despots and hailed the Shaysites as champions of popular democracy. Historians sympathetic to Shays's critics , in contrast, have typically hailed the Massachusetts government for its principled defense of law and order, and reviled the Shaysites as unprincipled vigilantes. In In Debt to Shays, the well-known cultural historical Robert A. Gross has brought together an important collection of commissioned essays that strive to transcend the traditional interpretative categories within which these events have been ordinarily explained. The result is a richly detailed portrait of the Massachusetts back country that is filled with illuminating insights into the cultural, religious, political, and economic dimensions of everyday life. BookRevietvs 139 Like most collections of commissioned essays, In Debt to Shays is a mixed lot. Several of the authors disagree with each others conclusions and spare few pains to highlight these disagreements in the text. Virtually everyone, however, shares the conviction that something momentous happened in the Massachusetts back country during these hectic months and that these events have important lessons for us today. For Stephen A. Marini, the Shaysites provided an important impetus to dissenting religious groups such as the Baptists and Shakers that helped to usher in the modern pluralistic religious marketplace. For Michael Lienesch, they helped to redefine, and ultimately to limit, the meaning of popular resistance to the rule of law, For William Pencak, Jonathan Chu, and Richard Buel, Jr., they provided the Massachusetts political establishment with an opportunity to demonstrate the virtues of political self-restraint, and, in this way, to vindicate its bold commitment to the institution of a republican form of government. And, for Gross,John L. Brooke, Gregory H. Nobles, Joseph A. Ernst, and Stephen E. Patterson-sounding what is perhaps the dominant theme of the collectionthey exposed what Gross terms a "fundamental crisis of republicanism in the new nation" that revolved, ultimately, around the competing values of an anticapitalistic yeomanry and a procapitalastic mercantile elite (3). Students familiar with recent American historiography on the early republic will find this latter conclusion oddly familiar. The same "market revolution," it seems, that Charles Sellers, Sean Wilentz, Harry Watson, and the growing chorus of younger historians who have followed their lead have claimed to trace to the half-century beginning around 1815, was, or so these historians contend, already well underway in the Massachusetts back country in 1786. Among the most successful of the essays eschew such grand theorizing in favour of a detailed comparison of the Shaysites with other similar groups. To be sure, none of the contributors pay more than cursory attention to the south and west of the Hudson River. Two, however, do make interesting comparisons between Massachusetts and Maine. According to James Leamon, the absence of a comparable protest in Maine can be explained by the preoccupation of the Shaysites' Maine contemporaries with the prospect of eventual statehood, which tended to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 138-140
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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