Academic journal article The Historian

Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation

Academic journal article The Historian

Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation

Article excerpt

Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation. Edited by Alfred F. Young, Gary B. Nash, and Ray Raphael. (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Pp. x, 452. $32.50.)

According to the editors of this volume, "We will never grasp the full scope of the American Revolution until we take seriously its most progressive participants and incorporate them into our national narrative" (12). This seems to be the purpose of this book, which is composed of twenty-two essays by as many authors of the New Left. In Eric Foner's afterword, he declares his hope that the tome "succeeds in setting the record straight" (395).

The puzzling thing about Revolutionary Founders is that it is decades too late. For some forty years, the New Left has been almost totally dominant; there has been little else but radical this and radical that. Assorted radicals, including slaves, women, and American Indians, were incorporated into historical writing of the Revolution long ago. Billed as original, many of the essays are not exactly new. One has been reprinted from a popular magazine. Fourteen others, entertaining though they may be, have been based on each essay author's own book. Although original in the sense that they are not word-for-word reprints, these essays are, for the most part, more like distillations from earlier work. This reinforces the basic fact that the New Left is no longer new.

These essays also are of varying quality. Jill Lepore, in her account of Thomas Paine, wildly exaggerates when she blasts the "comic-book version of history that serves as our national heritage," though her unmasking of Batman as Thomas Jefferson may boost the sale of his papers (89). David Waldstreicher asserts that George Washington needed the poet Phillis Wheatley "as an ally" against the plotting of other generals, proving that anything can be overanalyzed (109). …

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