THE OLD REVOLUTIONARIES: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams by Pauline Maier

THE OLD REVOLUTIONARIES: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In From Resistance to Revolution (1972), MIT historian Maier traced the radicalization of American colonials on a large scale; here, focusing on the lives of five revolutionaries, she looks at the same phenomenon close up. What were the motivations of some diverse individuals who made common cause? Sam Adams is portrayed within the moral universe of Puritan values, which gives this quintessential radical a human side often denied him and shows him as the selfless revolutionary he was. In contrast, we have New York merchant and former privateer Isaac Sears, who made a fortune from the Revolution and deemed it no bad thing if private interest coincided with the general good. Virginia's landed aristocrat Richard Henry Lee, on the other hand, decried his own wealth and social standing and admired the equality he imagined to prevail in New England--a perception solidified by his contact with the egalitarian Adams. For his part, Thomas Young, a doctor from the Hudson River Valley, represents the rural small-holder radicalized by hatred of (New York) landowners. The one peripheral figure here, Maryland's Charles Carroll--who returned from abroad just in time to sign the Declaration--is included primarily because of the vast documentation he left behind; but he is also of interest as a Catholic in a Protestant revolution. A summary chapter contrasts these five with men of similar backgrounds who went the Royalist road (without drawing any conclusions), and points out that the five were part of an older generation of American revolutionaries whose activities peaked in 1776 (as opposed to the younger generation associated with the Constitution and its debates). The capsule biographies are well accomplished, though the decision to include these five particular ""types"" is rather arbitrary, and the generational idea could be more fully developed. A book of modest intent compared with the earlier study, but a good entrÉe into the period and its people.

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1980
ISBN: 0393306631
Publisher: Knopf