Birth Of A Republic 1763-89: The Chicago Term Paper
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Birth of a Republic 1763-89: The Chicago History of American Civilization (Revised Edition) by Edmund S. Morgan. The University of Chicago Press, 1977, 202 pp. Edited by: Daniel J. Boorstin.
The delayed results of the Presidential elections of 2000 also known as the "Florida Fiasco" raised several questions. Two among them: What were the differences between a democracy and republic? Which of the two (democracy or republic) was the United States of America? Cries of "the will of the people" being denied were heard loud and often. Some pundits suggested that since Mr. Gore had won the popular vote, the constitution might be amended to accommodate the "democratic aspect" of the government. Fortunately (and not for political reasons) the sanctity of the constitution was preserved.
Edmund Morgan, Professor Emeritus at Yale University, had already answered all the above questions in his eminently readable "The Birth of a Republic." The book traces the chronological history of the United States. The author concentrates on: the events leading to the American War of Independence, the achievement of freedom, and then, perhaps the more difficult part, establishing a nation with specific rules of governance -- the establishment of a republic complete with a written constitution (differing from Great Britain, which has an unwritten constitution).
To understand why the creation of a republic was the next logical step after independence, it is necessary to visit the definitions of what constitutes a democracy vs. A republic. A democracy is the government of the masses. In a republic, authority is derived through the election of public officials that are best fitted to represent them.
The book does not begin at the landing at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. But rather, from a rather insignificant skirmish of seemingly no consequence -- a fight between a fit and disciplined battalion of the British Army and a rag-tag group of barely armed colonists at the Battle of Lexington. It begins at the point where new Americans, while still subject to...
...Several conditions prevalent in England at the time: the increasing role of Parliament, the decreasing affect of royalty on the "mother" country's internal affairs, a stagnating economy, and the determination of the English politicians to make the Americans pay.
Resentment set in. It was accompanied by recognition that many across the occupied colonies shared this feeling. It is ironic that tax-cuts vs. higher taxes are the distinguishing factors between the two prevailing political philosophies today. Taxes levied by the British on the colonies led the conditions leading to the War of Independence. The freedom struggle was initiated by the Declaration of Independence -- signing which was a treasonous act, punishable by death. Chief among levies, the colonies found unacceptable, were the Stamp and Sugar Acts, the duties levied on tea, and the prohibitive penalties on custom duties -- the later exacerbated by corrupt officials.
After Independence was achieved, the separated colonies had to coalesce into a whole. All this had to be accomplished while defeating the vested interests of France and Spain who had helped the colonies in various battles. Finally the Constitution was created. Each facet of this document is a beacon of freedom for countries all over the world.
The above nutshell summary is important because it creates a perspective by which the book can be reviewed. Morgan's book is, in a word, excellent. It is a presentation of the greatest triumphs in American history. The brevity of the narrative is what makes it popular. At the end of the book, Edmund Morgan presents an impressive bibliography, from Michael Kaus's "Intercolonial Aspects of American Culture on the Eve of the Revolution" (1928) to Jackson T. Main's "The Sovereign States." The work of more than fifty history books in condensed into "The Birth of the Republic." Readers would have to wade through several ponderous works to get a feel for what Morgan…
Sources Used in Documents:
bibliography of sources used; and, all of them treat each chapter of the book in great detail. True. But then, Edmund Morgan also does his readers a disservice. He teases. He leaves the reader dangling. He challenges the reader to seek out his sources. If he were thus successful, the reader would be disappointed on finding the sources lacking Morgan's narrative brilliance. His enormous abilities could serve to provide a little bit more information to the reader.
Two examples are salient. These are instances that most people have heard of, and no doubt would like to learn more about. The famous Boston Tea Party incident merits only a, "The people of Boston and the surrounding towns took up the challenge and on the night of December 6, 1773, unloaded the tea themselves -- into the harbor." (p. 58). To be fair, Morgan does provide a background to events leading to this incident. But a detailed discussion would have been better. Similarly, consider one of the more famous (and significant) battles in the War of Independence -- the battle of Bunker Hill. Once again, all Morgan can offer is, "In the Battle of Bunker Hill, as it was called, the British showed a courage that wiped out the stain of their hurried retreat from Concorde two months ago." (p. 69) A few books have been written about these incidents. One would expect a little more detail from Morgan about these events in the grander scheme of the revolution.
To its intended audience, "The Birth of a Republic" is perhaps one of the best books available. It presents, a nutshell two American struggles: A struggle for freedom; and, the struggle to create a nation borne out of principles that would stand the test of time.
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