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A so-so attempt to synthesize 20-odd years of revisionist scholarship. Winner of the 1982 Bancroft Prize for A People in Revolution: The American Revolution and Political Society in New York, Countryman hammers here at two points: first, we can now see more clearly than ever before what the struggle for independence meant for ordinary men and women (instead of the better-known elites); and, second, we can also see how it gave them ""reason and opportunity for thoroughgoing political revolution."" Countryman's problem is making the connection between the two. His diligent reconstructions of the experiences of farmers, women, slaves, artisans, small-town politicians, and lesser merchants, and of the iffy, shifting alliances between them, are all extremely effective--so effective, indeed, that ""the immense variety in what happened"" repeatedly overwhelms his attempts to sustain a coherent narrative of the main events. Ironically, this salutary pluralism also weighs heavily against his neo-Progressive argument for the rise of a broadly-based, radical-democratic revolutionary movement--to say nothing of the movement's limitations where women, slaves, and poor whites were concerned. (Thus the notion that the Sons of Liberty constituted ""a revolutionary party"": the more Countryman insists on the diversity of discontent with Great Britain, the more far-fetched this sounds.) A fine concluding chapter on the 1787 Constitutional Convention makes the conservative, anti-democratic intentions of the Founding Fathers quite clear: they were obviously worried about something--although, in this account, exactly who and what remain a bit fuzzy. Not a convincing treatment, on the whole, but not without its attractions or uses.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1985
ISBN: 0809025620
Publisher: Hill & Wang/Farrar, Straus & Giroux