Why did the American Revolution turn out so well?
Across the world and throughout history—from France to Russia to China and elsewhere—revolutions have usually descended into tyranny and bloodshed, but America has enjoyed stability, freedom and prosperity. Historian and City Journal editor Magnet (Dickens and the Social Order, 2004, etc.) delivers the answer in this collection of biographies of our Founding Fathers, describing their ideas as well as—for no clear reason—their homes. The usual immortals—Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and Madison—take up most of the text. Readers may puzzle over the absence of John Adams and Benjamin Franklin and the inclusion of second-level figures such as William Livingston, John Jay and the Lees of Virginia, but it is this selection, rather than their straightforward biographies, that supports the author’s argument. Historians agree that America’s founders aimed to restore what they viewed as traditional British freedoms being trampled by George III and his administration. Magnet stresses that eschewing abstract theories and sticking to narrow political goals ensured their success, adding that subsequent revolutions in other nations aiming to create a new social and economic order ended badly. Readers will now understand the absence of Adams and Franklin. All of the author’s founders belonged to the upper-class elite—or, in Hamilton’s case, identified with it—so social revolution held no attraction. Since America was more prosperous than even Britain and lacked an underclass, pressure for an economic revolution was low.
Mildly quirky but well-argued. It’s not controversial that American revolutionaries sought only liberty, not equality or fraternity, and Magnet is happy to point that out.