Log inskip to content

Why do popular histories of the War of Independence ignore modern scholarship?

If you bought a popular book on science, one that came with a similar sheen of intellectual prestige, and learned that it essentially ignored years’ worth of scholarship, you’d demand your money back. Why should history be any different?

…These pop histories make arguments I haven’t seen scholars of the Revolution make in years. Implicit in all of them is the notion that the founders’ professed ideas of liberty and equality truly rallied colonists to their cause. It’s a comforting thought, but one that flies in the face of the latest research. For most of the war, the majority of colonists probably wanted nothing to do with the conflict, an argument emphasized at a recent Penn conference of leading scholars. Battlefield successes and Britain’s heavy-handed tactics may have boosted the patriots’ appeal, but it’s misleading to call their cause genuinely “popular.” To gain supporters, local patriot leaders often relied on fear and intimidation, not appeals to hearts and minds. In most towns, for instance, patriots created vigilante groups, called Committees of Safety, that forced colonists to take loyalty oaths, swearing to turn in anyone deemed suspicious. During the war, in other words, colonial America may have felt more like the Soviet Union than a free and open republic.

More at Slate

Comments are closed.