Dickens’ “it was the best of times and the worst of times” is often quoted, but the deeper meaning forgotten, especially in today’s rough and tumble world of politics. We tend to be nostalgic and rekindle some kind of forgotten magic that has long passed. The old timers share war stories and say how great things used to be with our contemporary history books painting the mystical tale of successful periods in our history. There is no way these founding fathers could have imagined that we would still be around as a nation or the many changes.
As an American, the year 1776 has been ingrained as the year our nation embarked on this democratic experience that has sustained for over two hundred years. The battles, Paul Revere’s ride, Jefferson penning he Declaration of Independence and the Boston Tea Party. Were these pinnacle events that occurred in 1776 or was the mark further back?
Author Kevin Phillips has been on the political scene for over a half century and written extensively about some of the major political realignments. Like most in the field, he had grown disillusioned with the politics. In his new book, 1775: A Good Year for Revolution he steps back to our nation’s early days about the emerging republican (small-r) majority or plurality.
Phillips makes a convincing case that 1776 is not the most important year to remember in our history, but that it was actually 1775 when major events moved in favor of the revolutionaries. He documents and tells in vivid detail events and observations that pointed to his case. Here are some of the points I found interesting in the book 1775.
Out of the colonies only a few, Connecticut, South Carolina, Virginia, and Massachusetts made up the vanguard of the Revolution, contributing two thirds or even three quarters of its momentum and leadership. These four had most of the wealth and population and held old charters so they had a history behind them.
Communications was a problem and the British did not get word of some of the changes in the colonies. Then the British had bad maps of the coast line or really understand the geography.
Phillips notes the large make up of slaves and indentured servants in the new territories. The diversity of the national ideals moved away from the political and constitutional class with Britain and a push for economic self-determination.
One poignant issue then that we face today is money. At first the lack of a common currency created problems then after independence inflation and a pumping up with more money printed from $5 million by the end of 1775 to $15 million by mid-1776.
Overall, what I enjoyed about the book is that it reframes some our basic assumptions into a realistic portrait that no matter how much we glamorize the early days, they had a lot more problems that we had today. If the successes of 1775 did not happen, we either would be speaking with a British accent or have taken shape into a mini-European model of small states.
This book is an eye opening look into one perspective of the history of the United States. It is a detailed history lesson that makes will make you appreciate 1775. I learned a lot of new facts and it was nice to venture back to those days that are often taken for granted. Everyone needs a good history lesson now and then.
1775: A Good Year for Revolution
By Kevin Phillips
2012 Viking 628 pp
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