By Joseph J. Ellis
Via graphics of 4 figures—Charles Willson Peale, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, William Dunlap, and Noah Webster—Joseph Ellis presents a distinct point of view at the function of tradition in post-Revolutionary the US, either its excessive expectancies and its frustrations.
Each lifestyles is attention-grabbing in its personal correct, and every is used to brightly remove darkness from the old context.
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Additional info for After the Revolution: Profiles of Early American Culture
16 A third explanation comes from Bernard Bailyn, who offers the disarmingly counterintuitive argument that the prescience of the founders was a function of their provincialism. Bailyn poses, more clearly than anyone else, the core question: How did this backwoods population of three to five million farmers, mechanics, and minor gentry, huddled on the distant edge of the British Empire, far removed from the epicenters of learning and culture in London and Paris, somehow produce thinkers and ideas that fundamentally transformed the landscape of modern politics?
The obsession with posterity’s judgment also explains why, in their old age, they often chose to retrospectively airbrush their youthful blunders out of the picture, as when Jefferson edited out his confident claim that the French Revolution would be a bloodless triumph. Especially toward the end, posing for posterity became an instinctive act, because posterity was the only afterlife of which most of them were certain. 15 An altogether different explanation for the distinctive character of the founders’ achievement comes from Gordon Wood, whose argument echoes the earliest observation by Washington that timing was crucial.
The former is a radical document that locates sovereignty in the individual and depicts government as an alien force, making rebellion against it a natural act. The latter is a conservative document that locates sovereignty in that collective called “the people,” makes government an essential protector of liberty rather than its enemy, and values social balance over personal liberation. It is extremely rare for the same political elite to straddle both occasions. Or, to put it differently, it is uncommon for the same men who make a revolution also to secure it.
After the Revolution: Profiles of Early American Culture by Joseph J. Ellis