Becoming America
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Becoming America

The Revolution before 1776

Jon Butler

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eBook - ePub

Becoming America

The Revolution before 1776

Jon Butler

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Winner of the John G. Cawelti Award, Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association "We must congratulate Butler for [bringing] under control [a] profusion of scholarship and [making] sense of it in fewer than 250 pages. His book is a tour de force…Compelling and readable."—Gordon S. Wood, New Republic "Americans today think of the colonial period, if at all, as a time remote from modern America, in which society was unimaginably different from ours. Butler argues persuasively that America during the late colonial period…displayed distinctive traits of modern America, among them vigorous religious pluralism, bewildering ethnic diversity, tremendous inequalities of wealth, and a materialistic society with pervasively commercial values."— Kirkus Reviews Multinational, profit-driven, materialistic, power-hungry, religiously plural: America today—and three hundred years ago. Jon Butler's panoramic view of the mainland American colonies after 1680 transforms our customary picture of pre-Revolutionary America; it reveals a strikingly "modern" character that belies the eighteenth-century quaintness fixed in history. Stressing the middle and late decades (the hitherto "dark ages") of the American colonial experience, Butler shows us vast revolutionary changes in a society that, for ninety years before 1776, was already becoming America.

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1. What constitutes the “modern” is, of course, a matter of debate. A sophisticated attempt to trace the process of modernization in America before the Civil War is contained in Richard D. Brown, Modernization: The Transformation of American Life, 1600–1865 (New York, 1976). For a controversial treatment of early-nineteenth-century “modernity,” see Paul Johnson, The Birth of the Modern: World Society, 1815–1830 (New York, 1991). The subject is treated in more sophisticated if indirect terms in Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York, 1992). Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity (Stanford, Calif., 1990), Jean-François Lyotard, The Post-Modern Condition (Minneapolis, 1985), and other similar books unfortunately advance elliptical and elusive concepts of modernity that I found difficult to apply to eighteenth-century America.
2. For an older criticism of this habit, see Lawrence Leder, “A Neglected Aspect of New York’s Forgotten Century,” New York History, 37 (1956): 259–265, as well as Charles M. Andrews, The Colonial Background of the American Revolution: Four Essays in American Colonial History (New Haven, 1931), pp. 180–181, and Clinton Rossiter, Seedtime of the Republic: The Origin of the American Tradition of Political Liberty (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1953). The historian Jack P. Greene has been especially critical of the focus on New England, most forcefully in his book, Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of Early Modern British Colonies and the Formation of American Culture (Chapel Hill, 1988). Criticism of the New England model in American religious history is contained in my own book, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (Cambridge, Mass., 1990). Text-books with considerable interpretative significance in colonial American history include Clarence L. Ver Steeg, The Formative Years, 1607–1763 (New York, 1964), and James A. Henretta, The Evolution of American Society, 1700–1815 (Lexington, Mass., 1973), which was succeeded by James A. Henretta and Gregory H. Nobles, Evolution and Revolution: American Society, 1600–1820 (Lexington, Mass., 1987).
3. Among the studies from the Chesapeake group that concentrated on economic and demographic issues are Lois Green Carr, Russell R. Menard, and Lorena S. Walsh, Robert Cole’s World: Agriculture and Society in Early Maryland (Chapel Hill, 1991); Lois Green Carr et al., Colonial Chesapeake Society (Chapel Hill, 1989); Allan Kulikoff, Tobacco and Slaves: The Development of Southern Cultures in the Chesapeake, 1680–1800 (Chapel Hill, 1986); Gloria L. Main, Tobacco Colony: Life in Early Maryland, 1650–1720 (Princeton, 1982); Russell R. Menard, Economy and Society in Early Colonial Maryland (New York, 1985); and Darrett B. Rutman and Anita H. Rutman, A Place in Time: Middlesex County, Virginia, 1650–1750 (New York, 1984). Other crucial studies on Maryland or Virginia include T. H. Breen, Tobacco Culture: The Mentality of the Great Tidewater Planters on the Eve of the Revolution (Princeton, 1985); Kathleen M. Brown, Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (Chapel Hill, 1996); Paul G. E. Clemens, The Atlantic Economy and Colonial Maryland’s Eastern Shore: From Tobacco to Grain (Ithaca, N.Y., 1980); Richard Beale Davis, Intellectual Life in the Colonial South, 1585–1763, 3 vols. (Knoxville, 1978); Jack P. Greene, The Quest for Power: The Lower Houses of Assembly in the Southern Royal Colonies, 1689–1776 (Chapel Hill, 1963); Joan R. Gundersen, The Anglican Ministry in Virginia, 1723–1766: A Study of Social Class (New York, 1989); Ronald Hoffman, A Spirit of Dissension: Economics, Politics, and the Revolution in Maryland (Baltimore, 1973); Rhys Isaac, The Transformation of Virginia, 1740–1790 (Chapel Hill, 1982); Alan L. Karras, Sojourners in the Sun: Scottish Migrants in Jamaica and the Chesapeake, 1740–1800 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1992); J. A. Leo Lemay, Men of Letters in Colonial Maryland (Knoxville, 1972); Kenneth A. Lockridge, The Diary, and Life, of William Byrd II of Virginia, 1674–1744 (Chapel Hill, 1987); Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York, 1975); Jacob M. Price, Capital and Credit in British Overseas Trade: The View from the Chesapeake, 1700–1776 (Cambridge, Mass., 1980); Jacob M. Price, France and the Chesapeake: A History of the French Tobacco Monopoly, 1674–1791, and of Its Relationship to the British and American Tobacco Trades (Ann Arbor, 1973); A. G. Roeber, Faithful Magistrates and Republican Lawyers: Creators of Virginia Legal Culture, 1680–1810 (Chapel Hill, 1981); Michal J. Rozbicki, The Complete Colonial Gentleman: Cultural Legitimacy in Plantation America (Charlottesville, Va., 1998); Daniel Blake Smith, Inside the Great House: Family Life in Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake Society (Ithaca, N.Y., 1980); Mechal Sobel, The World They Made Together: Black and White Values in Eighteenth-Century Virginia (Princeton, 1987).
4. See especially Randall H. Balmer, A Perfect Babel of Confusion: Dutch Religion and English Culture in the Middle Colonies (New York, 1989); Patricia U. Bonomi, A Factious People: Politics and Society in Colonial New York (New York, 1971); Patricia U. Bonomi, “The Middle Colonies: Embryo of the New Political Order,” in Perspectives in Early American History: Essays in Honor of Richard Morris, ed. Alden T. Vaughn and George A. Billias (New York, 1973), pp. 63–92; Patricia U. Bonomi, Under the Cope of Heaven: Religion, Society, and Politics in Colonial America (New York, 1986); Patricia U. Bonomi, The Lord Cornbury Scandal: The Politics of Reputation in British America (Chapel Hill, 1998); Mary Maples Dunn, William Penn: Politics and Conscience (Princeton, 1967); Aaron S. Fogleman, Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement, and Political Culture in Colonial America, 1717–1775 (Philadelphia, 1996); J. William Frost, A Perfect Freedom: Religious Liberty in Pennsylvania (New York, 1990); Joyce D. Goodfriend, Before the Melting Pot: Society and Culture in Colonial New York City, 1664–1730 (Princeton, 1991); Michael Kammen, Colonial New York: A History (Millwood, N.Y., 1975); Ned Landsman, Scotland and Its First American Colony, 1683–1765 (Princeton, 1985); Gary B. Nash, Quakers and Politics, Pennsylvania, 1681–1726 (Princeton, 1968); Gary B. Nash, The Urban Crucible: Social Change, Political Consciousness, and the Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, Mass., 1979); A. G. Roeber, Palatines, Liberty, and Property: German Lutherans in British North America (Baltimore, 1993); Alan Tully, “Englishmen and Germans: National-Group Contact in Colonial Pennsylvania,” Pennsylvania History, 45 (1978): 237–256; and Alan Tully, Forming American Politics: Ideals, Interests, and Institutions in Colonial New York and Pennsylvania (Baltimore, 1994).
5. Peter A. Coclanis, The Shadow of a Dream: Economic Life and Death in the South Carolina Low Country, 1670–1920 (New York, 1989); A. Roger Ekirch, “Poor Carolina”: Politics and Society in Colonial North Carolina, 1729–1776 (Chapel Hill, 1981); Rachel Klein, Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760–1808 (Chapel Hill, 1990); James H. Merrell, The Indians’ New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Removal (Chapel Hill, 1989); Jon F. Sensbach, A Separate Canaan: The Making of an Afro-Moravian World in North Carolina, 1763–1840 (Chapel Hill, 1997); Daniel B. Thorp, The Moravian Community in North Carolina: Pluralism on the Southern Frontier (Knoxville, 1989); Peter H. Wood, Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (New York, 1974); Peter H. Wood, Gregory A. Waselkov, and M. Thomas Hatley, eds., Powhatan’s Mantle: Indians in the Colonial Southeast (Lincoln, 1989); and a major original source that drew the attention of many historians to the Carolinas, Charles Woodmason, The Carolina Backcountry on the Eve of the American Revolution: The Journal and Other Writings of Charles Woodmason, Anglican Itinerant, ed. Richard J. Hooker (Chapel Hill, 1953). An important comparative study is found in Philip Morgan, Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry (Chapel Hill, 1998).
6. The literature on New England is enormous. Among studies that open new horizons on this society, especially after 1680, one might read Bernard Bailyn, “Religion and Revolution: Three Biographical Studies [Andrew Eliot, Jonathan Mayhew, Stephen Johnson],” Perspectives in American History, 4 (1970): 85–169; T. H. Breen, The Character of the Good Ruler: A Study of Puritan Political Ideas in New England, 1630–1730 (New Haven, 1970); Richard L. Bushman, From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social Order in Connecticut, 1690–1765 (Cambridge, Mass., 1967); John Demos, The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America (New York, 1994); John Demos, Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England (New York, 1982); Norman Fiering, Jonathan Edwards’s Moral Thought and Its British Context (Chapel Hill, 1981); Stephen Foster, The Long Argument: English Puritanism and the Shaping of New England Culture, 1570–1700 (Chapel Hill, 1991); Charles S. Grant, Democracy in the Connecticut Frontier Town of Kent (New York, 1961); Philip J. Greven, Jr., Four Generations: Population, Land, and Family in Colonial Andover, Massachusetts (Ithaca, N.Y., 1970); David D. Hall, World of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England (New York, 1989); Christine Leigh Heyrman, Commerce and Culture: The Maritime Communities of Colonial Massachusetts, 1690–1750 (New York, 1984); James W. Jones, The Shattered Synthesis: New England Puritanism before the Great Awakening (New Haven, 1973); Jane Kamensky, Governing the Tongue: The Politics of Speech in Early New England (New York, 1998); Kenneth Lockridge, Literacy in Colonial New England: An Enquiry into the Social Context of Literacy in the Early Modern West (New York, 1974); Kenneth A. Lockridge, A New England Town: The First Hundred Years (New York, 1970); Paul R. Lucas, Valley of Discord: Church and Society along the Connecticut River, 1636–1725 (Hanover, N.H., 1976); Jackson Turner Main, Society and Economy in Colonial Connecticut (Princeton, 1985); William G. McLoughlin, New England Dissent, 1630–1833: The Bapt...

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