Monday, August 18, 2008

The Struggle For Power: The American Revolution

Theodore Draper. The Struggle For Power: The American Revolution (New York:
Random House, 1996)

Reviewed by T. Hatch

If one supposes that ideology is a litany of highfalutin excuses justifying the nakedly brazen acquisition of power; not a streetlight (that while providing a drunk with a place to steady himself) nonetheless affords at least some illumination, then, this book belongs on the nightstand.

Draper's history of the American Revolution concentrates on the period following the British victory in the Seven Years' War until the beginning of armed hostilities in 1775. With the French now vanquished and no longer a threat to the English colonists, stoked by success, the British sought to make the colonial bureaucracy a bit more rational. Unhappily for the sake of the emerging Empire the colonists were only too thoroughly English. And like all real Englishmen they were adroit at smuggling, loathed paying taxes, and were among the world's finest at rioting. Because it was ambition (not oppression) that drove the colonist to revolt, it was only natural that a group of proper Englishmen should avail themselves of the opportunity to seize political power. So they did.

Because of the debt incurred in the Seven Years' War Parliament stepped up to claim its long dormant power of administration of the colonies. The colonists were used to the economic expansion that marked the first half of the eighteenth century. They were also accustomed to the lax enforcement effort of the custom authorities and quite naturally resented the crackdown. In addition to the unpopular Royal Proclamation of 1763 that enraged colonists who were already purchasing land beyond the Alleghenies, and for whom the Crown's imposition of a land monopoly was disagreeable, found themselves in opposition to a short list of slightly less egregious measures taken by the British government. The Sugar, Currency, and Stamp Acts of 1764 as well as the establishment of the vice-admiralty courts were all resented by the colonists with a propensity to rebellion.

Because the enterprising part of the colonial elite that we know as our founding fathers were able to exploit the “mob” in resisting taxes and duties there is no loose talk among American historians about social revolution. Because colonists held slaves in nearly all of the American colonies there can be no real discussion of a colonial war of liberation either. Like the Glorious Revolution of 1688 the American Revolution took place during a time of relative economic prosperity. In the tradition of their English revolutionary brethren the followers of the American Revolution see the event as a historical sui generis, entirely superior to revolutions in other countries.

Burling 2nd floor E210 .D73 1996

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