The Revolution is fertile ground for the historian's craft, as these essays attest. Edmund S. Morgan discovers in American protests against British taxation an affirmation of rights that the colonists adhered to with surprising consistency, and that guided them ultimately to independence. Then, after a general reassessment of the importance of the Revolution, he moves to a study of it as an intellectual movement, which challenged the best minds of the period to transform their political world. Next, in studying the ethical basis of the Revolution, Morgan traces the shaping of national consciousness by puritanical attitudes toward work and leisure. This leads him to an exploration of the paradoxical relationship between slavery and freedom, and the role their relationship played in the Revolution. Finally, thinking about the Revolution on its anniversary, Morgan looks once again at the Founding Fathers and the innovative daring, admiring most their ability to reject what had hitherto been taken for granted.
A distinguished historian of the Revolution restores some of its luster. Presenting his own essays from 1947 to 1975 as a sort of historian's progress, Edmund Morgan challenges the Revolution's various detractors - or, as he might put it, invokes the Revolutionary record as challenge. Against the contention that colonial opposition to Parliamentary taxation was shifty opportunism, he cites consistent objections to taxation without representation. To those, led by Charles Beard, who see economic self-interest as the revolutionists' motivation, he points out that property was deemed synonymous with liberty (the very reason for opposition to externally-imposed taxation). Taking the revolutionists at their words, moreover, he traces the 18th-century shift from preoccupation with saving individual souls to saving governments from corruption - by asserting three cardinal political principles: that one people ought not to rule another, that a people can act independently of a government, that a large (national) republic is the best safeguard against tyranny of the majority. Still another strand is the role of the Puritan Ethic, which caused the Revolution to be regarded as "a defense of industry and frugality, whether in rulers or people, from the assaults of British vice." The question of attitudes toward work leads to the problem of slavery and "the central paradox of American history: the simultaneous growth of slavery and of the devotion to freedom that animated the leaders of the Revolution." By curtailing the growth of a discontented white laboring class, black slavery, he finds, nourished white representative government. Ultimately the yoke was broken - via the Northwest Ordinance, under which the rebellious western states entered the union on equal terms with existing states, thus paving the way for reducing other inequities. Closely argued and extensively documented, Morgan's multiple theses gain interest and force in juxtaposition. A substantial contribution to the ongoing Revolutionary reappraisal. (Kirkus Reviews)