Revolution is truly like a pox, spreading from person to person.
This particularly human sickness is the subject of this winter’s issue of History NOW from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Ten essays from a collection of eminent historians detail how the revolutionary fervor of the Americas would spread globally, to France, to Haiti, to Cuba and beyond.
Several of the essays caught my eye. First was Patrick Spero’s interesting piece on the truly global nature of the American war of independence. Unbeknownst to many on this side of the pond, the longest and largest battle of the War of Independence did not occur on American soil and involved no US lives: the Spanish seige of British-held Gibraltar from 1779 to 1783. The British victory was celebrated in a painting by John Singleton Copley, demonstrating the US struggle’s overall limited place in what became a global war.
Susan Dunn’s comparison of the French and American Revolutions is also of note. The analysis is hardly new–that the moderating nature of the American Revolution made for a long-lasting, yet flawed system, while the increasingly radical French Revolution would self-destruct. What is new is the view of the American Revolution from the French point of view, particularly how the French perspective changes from that of doting admirers to critical ascendant revolutionaries bent on correcting and improving on the American model.
I would be remiss if I forgot the contributions of my old friend, UCLA professor emeritus Gary Nash. In an article recovered from Gilder Lehrman’s arch, Nash examines the social and intellectual roots of the Revolution, particularly the various movements advocating for independence and social change. The ideals of revolution manifested itself through various avenues, as Americans of all stripes struggled to create a new society–a society that would be on the backburner as forces of reaction and stability placed the war and the ensuing Constitution as a priority over social change.
As with any Gilder Lehrman product, History NOW is laden with primary sources for educators to utilize the ideas of the authors. This issue contains the Stamp Act, Jefferson’s letters on the Haitian and French Revolutions, the Monroe Doctrine, even the 1836 Texas Declaration of Independence.
The Neighborhood is usually very enthusiastic of Gilder Lehrman resources, and History NOW is no exception. Take your time and really sift through the treasure trove of analysis and insight…it’s among the best issues yet.