Essays on the American Revolution: Stephen G. Kurtz, …
Essays on the American Revolution: Kurtz, Stephen G., …
Neither did the "Consensus" school of historians, who becameascendant in the 1940s and 1950s. Just as the Progressives reflectedthe Marxian outlook of American intellectuals of the 1930s, so theConsensus school reflected the neo-Conservative "American celebration"that typified intellectuals in post-World War II America. The Consensushistorians were anxious to see consensus rather than conflict inAmerican history. And since both ideology and economic interests cancause conflicts, both were discarded as causal factors in the Americanpast. Instead, the Consensus school saw American history as guided notby "doctrinaire" ideas nor by economic interests but rather by aflexible, pragmatic, ad hoc approach to problem-solving. Since a revolution can hardly be a flexible approach to consensus, the American Revolution had to be writtenoff as a mere localized "conservative" resistance to the Britishgovernment. Furthermore, by deprecating the revolutionary nature of theAmerican Revolution, the Consensus school could isolate it from theindisputably radical French Revolution and other modern upheavals, andcontinue to denounce the latter as ideological and socially disruptivewhile seeming to embrace the founding heritage of America. The leadingConsensus historians were Daniel J. Boorstin and Clinton Rossiter. Onthe American Revolution, their works include: Boorstin, The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson and The Americans: The Colonial Experience; and Rossiter, Seedtime of the Republic: the Origins of the American Tradition of Political Liberty. Also in this school, stressing in particular the alleged "democracy" of the American colonies, is Robert E. Brown, Middle-Class Democracy and the Revolution in Massachusetts, 1691–1780.
Essays on the American Revolution Kurtz, Stephen G., and James H
Thus, by the end of the 1950s, American historians were further awaythan ever from appreciating the fact that the American revolution wastruly revolutionary. They did not perceive that it was largely animatedby a passionately held and radical libertarian ideology that integratedthe moral, political, and economic reasons for rebelling against theBritish imperial regime. But the Consensus historians did make oneimportant contribution. They restored the older idea of the AmericanRevolution as a movement of the great majority of the Americanpeople. It replaced the view held by Progressives and Imperialistsalike that the revolution was a minority action imposed on a reluctantpublic. Particularly important in developing this position was thejudicious work by John Richard Alden, The American Revolution, 1775–1783,still the best one volume book on the revolutionary war period. On theleft, the Marxian historian Herbert Aptheker also advanced thisposition. He chided the 1930s Progressives for their opposition to therevolution as a minority class movement in The American Revolution, 1763–1783.
Essays on the American Revolution on JSTOR
Perhaps the most important controversy was on how radical and howrevolutionary were the nature and consequences of the AmericanRevolution. We have seen Robert R. Palmer's challenge to the consensusview in his monumental The Age of the Democratic Revolution. J. Franklin Jameson produced the classic Beardian view on the social radicalism of the American Revolution in The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement.This thesis was attacked and seemingly refuted during the Consensusperiod of American historiography, particularly by Frederick B. Tolles,"The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement: AReevaluation," American Historical Review, 55 (1954–1955); and by Clarence Ver Steeg, "The American Revolution Considered as an Economic Movement," Huntington Library Quarterly,20 (1957). But Robert A. Nisbet, in a brilliant article, has nowrehabilitated the thesis of the American Revolution as having radicalconsequences, not in a Beardian, but in a libertarian direction. In hisThe Social Impact of the Revolution, Nisbet shows that theRevolution had a radical libertarian impact on American society: inabolishing feudal land tenure, in establishing religious freedom, andin beginning the process of the abolition of slavery. Thus, to Bailyn'sinsight on the libertarian sources of the Revolution, Nisbet adds hisconclusion on its libertarian consequences.