Book News Broad View Of America’s Revolution
Broad View Of
"A People’s History of the American Revolution: How the Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence"@ (New Press, 315 pages, $29.95) by Ray Raphael.
Most of us have heard the basic version of the American Revolution _ "Give me Liberty or give me death," Washington crossing the Delaware, "We hold these truths to be self evident. ..."
As the founding event in American history, the Revolutionary War and the actions of the founding fathers are revered.
"A People’s History of the American Revolution" approaches its subject in a subversively backward manner, with a "shift of the lens _ from George Washington to his slaves, to the soldiers ... to the Indians he displaced,’’ and from the notable patriot leaders to day-by-day accounts of the lives of the Colonists during the Revolution.
Neatly and meticulously, author Ray Raphael unravels Colonial America, social group by social group. He touches upon the Bostonians of the Tea Party; New England farmers; pacifist groups, including Quakers and Mennonites; blacks; American Indians; and women. The book is often intimate, drawing from journal entries the experiences of individuals in battle, and of one young recruit hesitating before signing papers to enlist in the Continental Army.
It is hard to determine who Raphael might have left out. We follow Indians into battle, escaped slaves who joined the British and their promise of freedom, and the women camp followers who marched with Washington’s army through Philadelphia, ignoring his orders to stay out of sight.
The picture that emerges is one of revolution as a nearly inevitable and uncontrollable event in an early American society mired in economic and social chaos. As for the people, Raphael shows that often they acted in conformity with their immediate social
group. People often chose sides based upon what their enemies were doing, or based upon their economic reality. Patriotic
fervor was often enforced through tarring and feathering, or public humiliation.
The larger picture is not entirely left out. With the day-to-day scenes are explanations of the policies and of the events that helped create them. The life of Ethan Allen is accompanied by an explanation of the land feuds caused by the disputed borders of New York and New Hampshire.
"A People’s History" presents an opportunity to understand the Revolution from a broader point of view. It rarely mentions the Founding Fathers. The few references to Washington are not usually flattering, and Patrick Henry is briefly noted for moving Indians out of Virginia, where he was governor.
This book does not present a balanced view, but it does provide a good counterbalance to the history we already know. Although the book should not be a first source of information on the Revolution, its perspective provides a clearer understanding of the times.