Audiobook Review: Great Courses: Origins And Ideologies Of The American Revolution: Part Four

Great Courses:  Origins and Ideologies Of The American Revolution:  Part Four, taught by Peter Mancall

Although in general I have been greatly disappointed by the way this course worked out and the perspective of its instructor, I found that this course ended in a place I liked much better than most of the previous material.  Admittedly, I found the author’s interest in ending the discussion of the origins and ideologies of the American Revolution at 1800 to be a bit puzzling, but it is easy to understand that the first peaceful transition between opposing parties in the American republic was a testament to the strength of the constitutional government, since peaceful transitions between opposing parties are not something that can be taken for granted in any representative government.  The fact that the author here largely mimics Bailyn [1] and other superior historians of the politics and ideology of the American constitution and only occasionally slips into social justice warrior territory (although he still does this, sadly) makes it better than most of the rest of the work so far, and something worth appreciating as a whole.  This part of the course does not exactly save the course entirely from being problematic, but at least it improves one’s perspective of the material being taught.

The final twelve lectures of this lengthy course take the listener from the time just after the Constitutional Convention to the death of the founding fathers and a critical examination of their complicated legacy.  This part begins with an examination of the text of the Constitution as a whole, looking at it article by article (37), before examining the antifederalist critique of the Constitution (38) and the response of the Federalists that allowed the Constitution to be passed with a commitment for a Bill of Rights to be added to it to answer the legitimate concerns of the Constitution’s critics (39).  After this the author talks about the Bill of Rights and Madison’s efforts in shaping the many suggestions he received into a set of amendments that was dealt with in the first session of Congress (40).  The author takes a breezy and somewhat superficial look at the politics of the 1790’s (41), spending a great deal of time examining and criticizing the Alien & Sedition Acts (42), whose worth I could see as fairly obvious, especially living in a time such as we do at present.  After that the author discussed the election of 1800 and its consequences (43) before going into leftist mode and discussing women (44) and native peoples (45) and how they fared as a result of the social changes related to the American Revolution, both of them ending up somewhat worse off, actually.  After that the author discussed the limited social changes the resulted from the revolution (46) before closing with a reflection on five of the more notable members of the revolutionary generation (47) and a discussion of the complicated and important meaning of the revolution (48).

Is this a worthwhile course to take?  How much you enjoy this course and get out of it will depend in large part on your own perspective.  The more fond you are of social history and the dominant leftist perspective in the humanities at present, the more you will enjoy this course.  The less you appreciate that perspective and its concerns with race, gender, and class, the less you will find of interest here.  Given the length of the course as a whole, the book’s rather shallow and slight treatment of the military history of the American Revolution was greatly disappointing.  After all, solid military history is something that is justly popular with ordinary people in a way that the instructor’s preoccupations are not.  Ultimately, though, this was not a course prepared for ordinary and patriotic Americans with an interest in better understanding our nation’s past.  Instead, this was a course that was designed for whiny leftists who want to dismiss as much as possible the moral position of the founders by subjecting them to carping criticisms about their treatment of black slaves, women denied political rights, and treacherous native peoples who had picked the wrong side in the Revolution and justly paid the price for it.  As is so often the case in our contemporary world, what you bring to this course will determine in large part what you get out of it.  And I personally, did not get much out of it–only enjoying that which I was already fond and familiar with from the author’s use of the research of far better historians than he is.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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