Book Review: The Counter-Revolution In Pennsylvania 1776-1790

The Counter-Revolution In Pennsylvania 1776-1790, by Robert L. Brunhouse

It is among the more fortunate aspects of the American Revolution that it was not in fact a revolution on the model of the French Revolution but was a more conservative affair.  This book gives us an understanding of how that came to be, that it was not a given but it was a matter of the success, ultimately, of conservatives in rolling back the initial overenthusiasm of radicalism in Pennsylvania in 1776.  We see from this book a way that initial radicalism because of the loss of the vote for those who were lukewarm about independence could be reversed in a gradual process once radical failures in rule became evident and once enough people were restored the vote who were neutrals during the Revolution.  This process took a considerable amount of time and the author appears to be more sympathetic to the radicals, but for those whose interests are counter-revolutionary, this book is an appealing way that a nation under great stress can nevertheless overcome revolutionary fervor gradually and intelligently and it may even be seen as a guidebook to sustainable counter-revolutionary activity, which is something our age could stand to learn a bit better.

This book is between 200 and 250 pages long and is divided into seven chapters.  The book begins with a preface and a discussion of the background of Pennsylvania’s political problems with a discussion of the state’s population, general political conditions, and the rise of the revolutionary movement in 1776 (1).  After this the author discusses the rise of the radicals to political power and the drastic changes they made to state government and the way it operated (2).  After this the author discusses the triumph of radicalism as conservative efforts to overturn the misguided state constitution were rejected and where inflationary economics showed the failure of radical leadership between 1778 and 1780 (3).  After this the author discusses the initial move back to the conservatives between 1780 an 1782 that showed the influence of trade, religion, and politics (4).  This initial emergence of the conservatives is increased between 1782 and 1784 (5) despite problems on the frontier fringe as well as the fear of Tories that existed at the time.  The next chapter discusses the failure of the counter-revolution between 1783 and 1786 through radical control of the Council of Censors and their narrow electoral victory and the problems faced by the radicals.  Finally, the author discusses the triumph of the counter-revolution between 1786 and 1790 as both the state and the federal government were re-made in a counter-revolutionary form that was acceptable to conservatives and ultimately beneficial to the people in Pennsylvania themselves (7).  After this there are notes, a list of abbreviations, a bibliography, and appendices that include maps and votes as well as an index.

By and large it is clear the sort of people who were counter-revolutionaries and those who were radicals.  While many people in sparsely populated areas that were recently settled were highly interested in more radical schemes of inflationary spending and land speculation as well as hostility to antislavery efforts (all of which improved their own narrow interests), those in more settled areas with more property values and a higher degree of interest in law and order supported, quite understandably, more conservative interests.  Included in this were the highly conservative but frequently unrepresented and politically quietist German population (which I owe a fair amount of my own personal ancestry to).  Depending on the whims of the voters and what people were allowed to vote, the period of 1776-1790 showed wild swings among a closely divided populace that wanted independence to be confirmed but also grew increasingly tired of ineffective radical efforts at electoral fraud as well as drastic attacks on efforts at sound banking and complex government of the kind that the United States now enjoys, at least for the moment.  In times such as our own it is worthwhile to reflect upon the real harm that radicals can do in their desire to oversimplify institutions so as to make them less resilient, corrupt institutions to ruin the wealth of savers and productive classes, and try to keep the more conservative people from voting through test acts of some kind and intimidation.  Such methods may be easily tried again.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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