Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Independence: The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Independence: The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution

Article excerpt

Independence: The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution. By Thomas P. Slaughter. (New York: Hill and Wang, 2014. Pp. [xx], 487. $35.00, ISBN 978-0-8090-5834-1.)

In his latest work Thomas P. Slaughter treads the well-worn road that led to the American Revolution, but he introduces a new theory to explain the colonists' slow but steady progress toward disconnection from Britain. He argues that the colonists always enjoyed a substantial degree of independence within their status as colonies and therefore did not seek to become an autonomous nation but rather preferred to be left alone while enjoying the rights, privileges, and protection of the British empire. Thus, Slaughter carefully, and rightfully, differentiates between independence and separation and shows how these two ideas ultimately came together in 1776 but were mutually exclusive before then. The colonists eventually felt compelled to detach from Britain, but they did not pursue this course of action actively until the last stages of the imperial crisis. This new interpretation of the meaning of independence makes Slaughter's text noteworthy and interesting, even if his retelling of events sounds rather familiar.

Colonial historians will be disappointed with the brevity and randomness with which Slaughter approaches the period before 1763. Even though he offers a good explanation in his preface for skipping around the colonial era and warns his readers that he "do[es] not intend this to be a survey of British colonial America that pays equal attention to all places, people, and institutions," the first section sounds disjointed and leaves the reader unsatisfied and even confused (p. xviii). Slaughter chooses to include only events that advance his theory of colonial independence within the empire. Thus minor and local political conflicts become pivotal to the story, and while these connections may exist, it is difficult to believe that these small-scale incidents had as large an impact as Slaughter claims. He also focuses on the mid-eighteenth century, which makes sense but also presents a skewed approach to the colonial period as a whole. Slaughter could have easily made his case by condensing the first six chapters, which would have strengthened his overall argument and allowed the reader to get to the more persuasive and coherent sections of his book more quickly.

Once Slaughter reaches the critical year of 1763, he enters more recognizable territory and skillfully links his theory to important events as they unfolded and as both colonists and British administrators (mis)interpreted them. …

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