Journalist Hogeland (Inventing American History, 2009, etc.) forges a compelling narrative from the dozens of intricate political imbroglios that culminated with the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
By casting a light on the daily interests of colonial Americans, particularly those whose homes and businesses patterned the spaces of bustling 18th-century Philadelphia, the author animates the discontents of the soon-to-be independent citizenry. With charming detail, the narrative brings together the diverse political players working during the nine weeks prior to the signing of the Declaration. These included rural militias, landed aristocrats, city merchants and immigrants, all of whom found a voice in Philadelphia. In Hogeland’s account, the political and cultural differences among these groups often appear far greater than the differences between any one group and England, and it is therefore all the more miraculous that the desire to be free of English rule was so strong as to be able to unify an otherwise truly factious land. The author demonstrates that this factiousness is as much a legacy of our nation’s founding as independence itself, and he reminds readers that our forefathers were far more flawed than present-day idolatry suggests. These were men who, by and large, were not in favor of universal suffrage, practiced a class-based and racist economics and were driven by personal reputation and the bottom line. As Hogeland illuminates, what is so remarkable about the founders is that populist radicals, merchant-class moderates and conservatives came together and couched their compromises in the fortunate language of freedom and equality.
A brief but astute, well-focused study.