In 1763 Americans toasted their King and their Mother Country. Twenty years later, they celebrated their independence from both. The story of the birth of our nation is a fascinating one—complex, surprising, triumphant and tragic. It has too often been told in simplistic terms, but in this issue of History Now our scholars grapple with the ambiguities that define this critical moment in our past. In “Lockean Liberalism and the American Revolution” Isaac Kramnick traces the origins of American political thought in the writings of England’s premier political philosopher, John Locke, and, in the process, makes us realize how radical the idea of the sovereignty of the people was then, and now. In “Unruly Americans in the Revolution," Woody Holton shows us that the “powerless” are often more powerful than they seem at first. Native Americans, women, and men of modest means influenced the decision of the colonial world’s political leadership as they grappled with the decision to rebel or accept the new British policies and taxes. Ray Raphael spotlights one of the most interesting, and influential, women of the era, Mercy Otis Warren in his essay, “The Righteous Revolution of Mercy Otis Warren." Sister of the radical James Otis and wife of a revolutionary, Mercy Otis Warren found her own political voice, in the years before the declaration of independence when she became New England’s most effective propagandists for resistance to British policies, and in the years after American victory when she campaigned to save the Articles of Confederation.
In “The Indians’ War of Independence,” Colin Calloway reminds us that the Revolution was, in fact, not one but many wars for liberty. Native Americans rose up to defend their land, their culture, and their independence with the same intensity as Patrick Henry or Samuel Adams rose to defend theirs. Holly Mayer’s essay, “Women and Wagoners: Camp Followers in the American War for Independence,” draws a moving social portrait of the civilians who provided valuable services to the military struggle, often enduring the same hardships and dangers as the men in uniform. In “Inventing American Diplomacy,” Richard Bernstein takes us behind the scenes to the conflicts, triumphs and failures of the American diplomats who negotiated the Treaty of Paris. His account reminds us that there is a thread that connects the revolutionary generation’s diplomacy to our own today. Finally, in “Teaching the Revolution,” I contrast the idealized narrative of the Revolution with the narrative historians have produced over decades of research, analysis and writing. The story historians tell turns out to be more thrilling, after all.
Our interactive feature, “Revolutionary Era Video Clips,” is a series of images illuminating the era, along with interviews with noted historians, produced by NBC Learn for use in the classroom. Our Archivist, Mary-Jo Kline provides a wealth of further resources on the Revolutionary Era. And, as always, she is ready to answer the questions you email to us about books, websites, primary sources or historical events. This issue of History Now, like all that came before it, provides lesson plans for AP, high school, middle school, and elementary history classes and our two master teachers, Phil Nicolosi and Bruce Lesh, offer you thoughtful suggestions about how to teach students about the struggle for independence.
As the school year begins again for us all, let me offer a resounding “huzzah” for those of us who labor to connect the past to the present in a meaningful way.
Editor, History Now
Carol Berkin is Presidential Professor of History at Baruch College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York. She is the author of several books including Jonathan Sewall: Odyssey of an American Conservative, First Generations: Women in Colonial America, A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, and Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America's Independence.