American Revolution, Written in 2002 by Gordon Term Paper

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American Revolution, written in 2002 by Gordon Wood on this seminal event, won the Bancroft Prize that is awarded annually by Columbia University for its distinguished portrayal of American history. In a short 166 pages, Wood conquers over 20 years in a very concise and interesting way -- despite the fact that this topic has been covered time and time again, often in a very dry fashion.

The American Revolution is divided into seven parts: "Origins," "American Resistance," "Revolution," "Constitution-making and War," "Republicanism," "Republican Society," and "The Federal Constitution." Wood's book starts with a description of the contributing causes that led to the Declaration of Independence in 1776, including the increasing strained affairs between the British and the colonists who were rapidly becoming more independent. As John Adams said, "the Revolution was affected before the war commenced." It was a change "in the minds and hearts of the people." The strength of British leadership was further diluted by a decentralization of colonists. Where most of the settlers first lived on the coasts, as time went on they began moving out further into the rural areas. Meanwhile, the standard of living increased, as prices soared for exports of colonist agriculture and manufactured products. Then the paternalistic structure of the colonial society was eroded forever when the British passed the Stamp Act in 1765, which levied a tax on legal documents, almanacs, newspapers and almost every other type of paper used by the settlers. Although the 1766 Parliament repealed the act, relationships would never be the same, and Americans became even more sensitive to any other taxation. The Tea Act struck the final blow to positive interactions.

In retaliation to the Tea Act, the colonists assembled the Continental Congress to announce their grievances. By 1775, the crisis had magnified so much that no hopes were seen for agreement between the two parties. Common Sense by Thomas Payne clarified the stance of the Americans and broke them entirely off from the British. With the Declaration of Independence, the settlers devised new state governments based on the principles of republicanism. Later in 1787, Americans saw a need for a stronger central government to regulate trade, raise taxes, and reduce political abuses, and the Articles of Confederation were amended at a convention in Philadelphia. Based on this political foundation, republicanism gave way to the democratic structure present to today.

Early on in his book, Wood makes it very clear that he saw what happened in America during this period as a "momentous event" that, as President Lincoln later noted, "gave birth to whatever sense of nationhood and national purpose Americans have had."

He explains with reluctance that "some historians today are more apt to stress the failures of the Revolution" than to believe that anything substantially progressive came out of this historical event. One historian, Wood notes, said that the Revolution "failed to free the slaves, failed to offer full political equality to women, ... failed to grant citizenship to Indians, failed to create an economic world in which all could compete on equal terms."

In response, Wood states that "such anachronistic statements suggest a threshold of success that no eighteenth-century revolution could possibly have attained ... " Rather than seeing the American Revolution as good or bad, it should be explained and understood for the complex story that took place.

As noted earlier, one of the strong points about Wood's book is its succinct coverage of this complicated time. The reader, instead of being muddied by a lot of names, facts and figures, is moved right along through history. There is no need to offer particulars on all the battles and the players; what is needed, as Wood says, is a basic understanding of what took place and…

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Reference Cited

Wood, Gordon. The American Revolution. New York: Modern Library, 2002.

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