The Radicalism of the American Revolution (56489)

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The Radicalism of the American Revolution

Gordon Wood is Professor of History at Brown University. He is one of the leading scholars researching issues of the American Revolution in the country. In 1970, his book “The Creation of the American Republic 1776–1787” was nominated for the National Book Award and received the Bancroft and John H. Dunning prizes. His outstanding book, “The Radicalism of the American Revolution” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993. It is considered to be one of the most engaging scientific books among the classic works on the social, political and economic consequences of the Revolutionary War. This book has a power to redirect historical thinking and well-established knowledge about the Revolution and its place within the national consciousness. In the book “The Radicalism of the American Revolution”, Professor Wood represents for readers a revolution that transformed almost feudal society into a democratic one, whose emerging realities sometimes confused and disappointed its founding fathers. Professor Wood has written a wide range of interesting books. He was also involved in Ken Burn's PBS production on Thomas Jefferson, and is contributing his knowledge and understanding in the National Constitution Centre that was built in Philadelphia and on a regular basis dedicates a share of his time teaching history to high school students around the country.

The values and lessons of the American Revolution seem to be so “natural” and also have become so deeply integrated in American politics and social life that they are irrefutable. We may state that actually no one today seriously supports a monarchy and hereditary aristocracy for the United States. Thus far, the political and social theories behind the American Revolution were as radical as, for instance, the ideas of Mao and Lenin seem to us. In this masterpiece of a history book, Professor Wood analyzes the comprehensive social changes set free during the developments of the American Revolution. He tries to show the process of rapid transformation of a near-feudal society into a democratic society with guaranteed liberties and freedoms, such as freedom of speech, belief, and many others that are even today, in times of modern world are unknown in many countries. Author’s device is to let a reader look at the American Revolution through an entirely new perspective and appreciate its significance with all the seriousness.

The talented author Professor Wood offers a fresh current in modern history on the formative years of the United States, giving description of the astounding transformation of distinct, quarrelling and fighting colonies. In fact, historians have always had some problems researching revolutionary nature of the American Revolution. In this brilliantly represented and convincingly argued book, one of the most celebrated American historians renovates the radicalism, brings it to the debate and define as one of the greatest revolutions the world has ever known.

As one of the specialists said “The Radicalism of the American Revolution” is the most important study of the American Revolution to appear in over twenty years. This work is also considered a breathtaking social, political, and ideological analysis of crucial historical events of the American country. Historian professor Wood depicts in this impressive and incalculably readable mixture of historical, political, cultural, ideological and economic analysis much more than just a break with England. He represents for his audience a revolution that resulted in serious changes within the country. Once again, we may say that almost feudal society was made a democratic one.

The work “The Radicalism of the American Revolution” is in fact a continuation of Professor Wood’s earlier work “The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787”. We as readers may claim that this is a magnificent study and fully deserves the Pulitzer Prize it had actually received. “The Radicalism of the American Revolution” covers different issues and gives answers to different problems. It researches somehow the same challenges as Bernard Bailyn's “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution” (Harvard University Press, 1967), but in contrast, Professor Wood develops a much more detailed, precise, and persuasive representation of a society transformation from one of feudal relationships to the other that was predicated on democracy, republicanism, and capitalism based on a market economy.

We see that primary Gordon Wood argues that the American Revolution was beyond doubt a radical chapter in world history and in history of the United States in particular. He states, “The republican revolution was the greatest utopian movement in American history. The revolutionaries aimed at nothing less than a reconstitution of American society. They hoped to destroy the bonds holding together the older monarchical society - kinship, patriarchy, and patronage - and to put in their place new social bonds of love, respect, and consent. They sought to construct a society and governments based on virtue and disinterested public leadership and to set in motion a moral government that would eventually be felt around the globe” (p. 229). Wood represents this as “a single and most powerful and radical ideological blow in all of American history” (p. 234). He calls all these ideas utopian, for had little trust in what was planned. He has little belief in a completion of all the radical steps that were undertaken. He comments, “Perhaps nothing separated early-nineteenth-century Americans more from Europeans than their attitude towards labour and their egalitarian sense that everyone must participate in it” (p. 286).

We are bound to say that Gordon S. Wood opposing earlier historiographies disagrees that the American Revolution represented a truthfully radical movement. Formerly historians had regarded the event as rather conservative in action and extent. Professor Woods takes courage to disagree with this traditional interpretation.

In fact, it is also relevant to say some words about the Revolution in general. The exact nature and scope of the revolution is a matter of great speculation. It is generally agreed and excepted that the Revolution originated around the time of the French and Indian War (1754–1763), and finished with the election of George Washington as the first President of the United States in 1789. Further the theories vary. On one hand is the supposition that the American Revolution was not “revolutionary” at all, that it did not radically reorganized colonial society, but just replaced a distant government with a local one. One the other hand is the opposite view impling that the American Revolution was a unique and radical event, representing bold changes that had a deep and strong influence on world history. That is why the work of Professor Wood “The Radicalism of the American Revolution” is academicaly important for us, especially in view of existence of numerous interpretations of the event.

In the progress of his study, Professor Wood leads his audience in chronological order through the developments leading up to, throughout, and following the War for Independence attempting to picture the advancement of intellectual thought during the particular period. Analysing the study we may say that Wood asserts that the American Revolution did more than smooth the progress of separation of the colonists from the English monarchy, but he adds that also it served to destabilize and demoralize the tyrannical and out of date earlier regime qualities of benefaction, dependence, and strict hierarchy. The author notes that all these social transformations, matching with the break from the monarchical system, produced radical and empowering changes that in a straight line influenced the unique path the young American nation would follow. Subsequently, Wood claims that the radical nature of the American Revolution produced comprehensive, influential and shapeless consequences unforeseen by the revolutionary founding fathers who were the authors of the idea of Revolution.

Within his study, Gordon Wood shapes his research in three major segments; he speaks first about Monarchy, then about Republicanism, and at last about Democracy. Professor in this work dismisses widespread misconceptions regarding the ground and character of the colonists' relationship with England, moreover he represents the revolutionary intellectual and social organizations of colonial society along with the clear description of the monarchical system. The author pays attention to the fact that before the beginning of the American Revolution proliferation of its intrinsic republican ideals, the noticeable splitting up between the aristocracy and ordinary people lent colonial society to the system of privilege benefaction and patronage represented under the auspices of a monarchical system.

Nonetheless, it is important to point out, as progressive ideas extended by means of pamphlets, political tracts and books, the American colonists paid attention to republican ideals and started their questioning of communal and political divisions. The republicanism manifesting itself in accepted colonial society resulted in the final termination of close and strong bonds to the monarchy. Presenting the republicanism of colonial society, Professor Wood disputes that such newly born ideas attained radical significance by providing a perceptive and significant defy to the monarchical system. Though, the author says, the move forwards for independence advanced uncertainly to some extent, it symbolized thus far the culmination of a new social optimism resonating now and then within the colonial population, including also revolutionary leaders themselves that is also very important to state. Wood also pays much attention to the Democracy. He considers that such political phenomenon existed in absolute opposition to the monarchical organization of the society. Despite the fact that democracy brought to the reality many of the ideals proposed by the founding fathers, Professor Wood believes that its ultimate and absolute shape represented a higher grade of equality unexpected and possibly even unpredicted by the revolutionary leaders. However, to make such conclusion randomly is impossible. That is why Wood carries out a comprehensive research on the reorganization of American society that had taken place since the War for Independence. The author also speaks about the developing role of government within the society and the involvement of common people in state affairs. Professor Wood says that it symbolized a radical concept change. According to Wood, American individualism was an inevitable result of the possibility of social mobility. Furthermore, the development of commerce and suspension of conventional relationships serve as the evidence to verify this claim. Consequently, by describing the progression of the young American state, Wood asserts that a radical break was the result not only of the American Revolution, but possibly was achieved trough greater domination of the radical intellectual ideas of the time in the course of development.

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