Sunday, April 22, 2018

Booknotes: Rethinking America

New Arrival:
Rethinking America: From Empire to Republic by John M. Murrin (Oxford UP, 2018).

John Murrin is a Princeton history professor and early America scholar, and his book Rethinking America: From Empire to Republic "brings together his seminal essays on the American Revolution, the United States Constitution, and the early American Republic. Collectively, they rethink fundamental questions regarding American identity, the decision to declare independence in 1776, and the impact the American Revolution had on the nation it produced." Consisting of eleven essays in three sections [An Overview, Toward Revolution, and Defining The Republic] and with an introduction by Andrew Shankman, the book "argues that high politics and the study of constitutional and ideological questions--broadly the history of elites--must be considered in close conjunction with issues of economic inequality, class conflict, and racial division. Bringing together different schools of history and a variety of perspectives on both Britain and the North American colonies, it explains why what began as a constitutional argument, that virtually all expected would remain contained within the British Empire, exploded into a truly subversive and radical revolution that destroyed monarchy and aristocracy and replaced them with a rapidly transforming and chaotic republic." Some of the chapters also engage in counterfactual analysis.

More from the description: "This volume examines the period of the early American Republic and discusses why the Founders' assumptions about what their Revolution would produce were profoundly different than the society that emerged from the American Revolution. In many ways, Rethinking America suggests that the outcome of the American Revolution put the new United States on a path to a violent and bloody civil war."

That the seeds of Civil War were planted in the Early Republic period is a common observation, and certainly Civil War related questions are what concern us most here at CWBA. Murrin's final essay ("War, Revolution, and Nation-Making: The American Revolution versus the Civil War") is a selective comparative analysis of the two American civil wars and an incisive critique of notable modern scholars and their scholarship. As its title suggests, the piece is largely focused on questions surrounding nationalism. It's well worth a look by Civil War readers, full of lively and strong opinions that you may or may not agree with.

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