In the following pages, Simmons combines a narrative introduction to early American history with the findings of recent scholarship. As general synthesis is bound to reflect recent scholarship as well as the interests of the author, some of the areas of early American life which seemed to Simmons of particular importance but which are only now being systematically treated are only briefly mentioned. Early American law and legal institutions; crime and punishment; treatment of the poor; and aspects of family life, of wealth distribution, and of social structure may be referred to. Simmons notes that this book was begun and written without any bicentennial expectations, and that it is published in 1976 as the result of chance, not of design.
A compact, intelligent survey of the English colonies in what became the US, the settlements that preceded them, and the revolutionary institutions of the states that succeeded them. Stressing differences among and within the regions, Simmons, a University of Birmingham historian, finds at the same time a surprising continuity of 17th-century colonial policy on the British end, from Cromwell to the Oranges. Britain's early 18th-century wars stimulated New World trade and shipping, he emphasizes, but claims (despite a pre-Revolutionary iron output greater than that of England and Wales) that "The colonies developed no appreciable industries" of their own. The book generally gives a nice balance of "material" and "ideological" influences; for example, Congregationalism (Simmons' more neutral and precise rubric for Puritanism) and colonial government structures are approached in terms of philosophies as well as socio-economic roots, without reductionism. "The system, after all, survived and worked for more than a century of rapidly rising population, warfare, and the expansion of settlement." But when the British decided after the Seven Years' War that they must either go bankrupt or "lay fresh taxes in cold blood" on the colonies, the game was up - one decisive element being, Simmons insists, the consumption of Paine's Common Sense by as many as one out of every three adult white males. Not rousing but clear, reasonable, and useful. (Kirkus Reviews)