Book Review: American Revolutions

American Revolutions:  A Continental History, 1750-1804, by Alan Taylor

When I saw this book’s title and dates, I made a guess to myself about which wars that the author would talk about.  I figured that it was a given that the author would talk about the American Revolution and the French & Indian War, and that it was possible that he would talk about the Haitian Revolution as well as the various Late Bourbon revolts in Peru and New Grenada, and indeed this book did mention them.  I was surprised, though, given the author’s obvious attempt to broaden the scope of his discussion of the American Revolution, that so much of it still resolved around the same sorts of problems of the failures of British imperial leaders and the tensions and hypocrisies within American society as well as the behavior of others who sought to exploit or survive or overcome the problems resulting from the conflict that resulted between British desires to increase centralization in their Atlantic empire and the obvious hostility of the American colonies to such efforts and their desire to preserve their ancient liberties and to create new ones, just not too far that it would disrupt their own favored internal social structures in their own smaller societies.  The contradictions that resulted still live with us today not only in the United States but in plenty of other places as well.

This book is nearly 500 pages long and is divided into twelve chapters framed by the usual list of maps and illustrations and introduction at the beginning (which informs the reader that this book is a sequel to an earlier one on colonial history) and acknowledgments, chronology, notes, bibliography, and index at the end to prove its scholarly heft.  In between the author discusses the colonial heritage of the English (and other) colonies (1) and then the concern of land and its speculation and settlement to colonial and imperial politics in the aftermath of Pontiac’s rebellion (2).  The author then looks at the thorny issue of slavery (3) as well as how it was that the protesting colonists became rebels (4) and then sought to find allies among the French, Spanish, and Dutch (5), whose efforts the author does not minimize.  The author discusses the thorny issue of loyalties and their divided nature (6) as well as the different meaning of the West for different people during the time (7).  The author discusses the role of the oceans and naval power (8) as well as the shocks that resulted from the defeat of the British (9).  Then the author discusses not only the American Republic but also other political entities in the various empires, including Haiti (10), and the issue of political partisanship (11) as well as the legacy of the American Revolution on later political problems in the United States and other places (12).

Indeed, while this book is certainly not perfect it does a very good job at capturing a great deal of the complexity of the American Revolution and its context and how it quickly spread into the larger Atlantic world as a result of the behavior of the Americans, British, and various other imperial or colonial peoples.  The author demonstrates the internal fissures within American and Canadian and British and other societies that influenced the lead-up to war, the course of war, and the aftermath of war.  Questions about who would provide the property to encourage soldiers to fight on behalf of liberty and the extent to which equality would exist in the new American republic, as well as the fate of those who joined with the British and ended up in places like the Bahamas, Canada, and Sierra Leone are also discussed.  As someone whose own family history is involved in some of these matters, such as the exploration of land beyond the Proclamation Line in Pennsylvania or the movement of Patriots into Ontario for low taxes and more land at the cost of political freedom, this book was quite interesting in exploring some of the areas that I myself have discovered in the face of my own family history.

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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