Liberty is Sweet magazine: an American revolution for the greatest number | Books


With his new book, Woody Holton shows the United States in its founding much as it is today. Then, like today, it was stratified by class and divided by race, religion and gender.

Bringing together a prodigious sum of scholarship, the University of North Carolina professor and Bancroft Prize winner challenges much of what we once imagined we knew.

A privileged few conceived and advanced the break with Great Britain. But because both sides promised freedom and land to blacks and Native Americans willing to fight on their behalf, the marginalized also saw the revolt as a golden opportunity.

Pursuing the implicit promises of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, even some women, not mentioned in both documents, joined the poor, slaves and Native Americans in alliance with disgruntled white settlers. With much to gain, they resolved to forge a new nation that would end the indignities and abuses long endured.

Unfortunately, this defeated the goals of the American elite. Despite all of the Enlightenment-inspired sentiments they expressed, much of their intention to gain independence was to appropriate even more indigenous lands while developing black servitude, all to enrich themselves further and further. more.

Holton shows how the American Revolution evolved from the Seven Years’ War in Europe, partly continued in North America like the French and Indian War. “No taxation without parliamentary representation! So protested the American rebels even more provoked by the imposition by Great Britain of a monopoly on trade. “How else”, retorted the mother country, “the expenses of the Crown, incurred to defend our colonial border against Indian attacks, must they be paid? “

It is remarkable that the American colonists seized the most powerful naval power in the world – and won. At the Battle of Long Island in August 1776, 25,000 red tunics clashed with 9,000 soldiers of the Continental Army. British leaders, however, recognized that fighting in an unfamiliar environment was dangerous.

Another British advantage raises another issue we face today. As Britain was much more densely populated than the 13 colonies, a much larger number of its fighters had already contracted smallpox, gaining lifelong immunity. As disease raged throughout the war, George Washington found himself in a dilemma.

“During the British occupation of Boston,” Holton informs us, “General Howe responded to a smallpox epidemic by vaccinating all soldiers who never had it.” The inoculation was the cause of Washington’s concern. An injection of the actual virus, as opposed to vaccination with cattle pox, inoculation allowed patients to recover for up to a month. The mass inoculation would have neutralized Washington’s forces. But the gradual inoculation, one unit at a time, risked infecting untreated men by those who had just been treated. Worse yet, sick soldiers could infect civilians.

Holton explains at length the double game the two teams played against Blacks and Native Americans. Bewitched into service by promises of treaties, land, bounties and freedom, both groups have been duped over and over again. White Americans, from Washington to pioneer farmers, knew it was wrong to enslave Africans and dispossess tribes of land and life. Why then did they do it? Neither Christianity nor philosophy could dissuade them from maintaining the privilege and power of wealth. Again, Holton’s book echoes our times, when billionaires shun graduated tax rates and the masses lose income and purchasing power.

Gordon Wood and Woody Holton met at the Massachusetts Historical Society in October. Photography: AP

Holton’s American foundation is flawed by venality but, paradoxically, made more robust by diversity and ultimately redeemed and made “more perfect” by the atonement for the original sin of slavery.

This is at odds with a rival scholar of the American Revolution, Gordon Wood. Her America appeared virgin, like Venus of the sea. Slavery, anti-Semitism, misogyny, Native American massacres? What are these abundant sources of freedom? When the two met recently, to discuss, sparks flew. Holton is doing better.

Illustration of e pluribus unum, his new book shows that the United States has always been a richly complex and multifaceted nation. Although he understands so many previously unknown voices, he hardly included everyone who was there. Of course, we read that Abigail Adams and wealthy white widows dream of the vote. We read from Marguerite Corbin, a woman who went with her husband to fight at Fort Washington in upper Manhattan, and who, after being fatally injured, equipped her cannon and was elected a Veteran’s Pension by Congress. Marie murray also makes its appearance. She is believed to have contributed before the Battle of Harlem Heights, providing British officers with cake and wine refreshments and thus delaying the advance of the red tunics.

But where is Miss Lawrence? Hannah laurent was a determined patriot and propagandist, unaware of the danger of imprisonment or worse. Quaker in Manhattan, she wrote and broadcast rhymed denunciations of the British occupiers. His modus operandi was to wander to the battery, where soldiers were walking, and to let his missives slip on the sidewalk before running away. Despite all her patriotic zeal, she found herself helpless when authorities sheltered Jacob Schieffelin, an officer of German descent, in her father’s house. They got married.

Where is also Haym Solomon, a Jewish financier of Polish origin? At a critical moment he supported the Americans. His efforts were subordinate to those of Robert Morris, born in England, as well as those of Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin, recognized as one of the principal founders of the American financial system. But the work of Solomon, and that of other Jews, was also of enormous importance.

These are baffles. Thanks to the work of Woody Holton, now better than ever, we realize that it is not just a small group of rich white men who deserve to be recognized as American founders. Knowing the real breadth and breadth of all who participated in the birth of our country, we can also celebrate the founding mothers, brothers and sisters. Like us, they were multiracial and of all classes.


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