Jeffrey Rogers Hamel is a historian and professor of economics at San Jose State University.
Woody Holton, a professor of history at the University of South Carolina, wrote a tom of about 800 pages Freedom is sweet And sub-titled The Secret History of the American Revolution… After the Holton argument The Washington Post On July 4, 2021, six leading revolutionary historians responded in a critical open letter to the fact that “white people’s anger at the British for their place with the captives had led many to take a decisive step in support of independence.” Tom McMahon was even more hostile to the Trotskyist “World Socialist Web Site”, which had previously been attacked by several scholars over the 1619 project. The resulting controversy even spread on Twitter.
But the book itself is more reserved and restrained than its early champions or opponents might have guessed. [From Part 1.]
As I pointed out in my previous post, Holton pays much more attention to African Americans than any other general account, regardless of their role before, during, and immediately after the American Revolution. What amazes me is that in his discussion of “the emergence of a significant free African American population in post-revolutionary United States,” he omits a significant reason for contributing to this development. He credited Vermont as an independent republic in 1777, “the first in the modern world to abolish slavery.” He cited the gradual emancipation of Pennsylvania in 1780 and referred to the Massachusetts Declaration or Rights of 1780 which made it “the first of the thirteen original states to abolish slavery.” What he fails to mention is that the upper-southern states of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia have relaxed almost universal slave-state restrictions on the voluntary release of their own slaves by their masters. Virginia did so in 1782, freeing an estimated 10,000 slaves over the next decade and a half, more than was released in Massachusetts by judicial decree.
Holton provides an equally comprehensive treatment of Native Americans. In fact, the book opens with a map describing the boundaries of numerous “First Nations” (a Canadian usage Holton often employs) before Mississippi. The members of this group, like the black Americans, fought on both sides of the conflict, albeit on the side of the former British. The third group to lead the book was women, who strongly supported the boycott of British goods and the thrifty Crusade; Launches shirt-making campaign for the Continental Army; Participation in food riots; While her husband was absent, she took charge of the farm, planting trees and running the business; Served as a source of valuable military intelligence; And they were often followers of the army camp, sometimes even fighting alongside men.
The second section of the book is also unique in its detailed concentration on military events, with some beautiful maps (although more helpful). Holton covers many minor conflicts and campaigns that are often not even mentioned in the full military history of the war. And his descriptions intersect with Vignette telling about the individual participants, better than most accounts of how chaotic and barbaric the conflict can be. It is fairly well known that, until the twentieth century, disease regularly killed more soldiers than war, but Holton’s method brought home this feature of war. He focused more than usual on resisting state recruitment. In dealing with generals on both sides, he reveals how obsession with eighteenth-century honor led them to make otherwise seemingly wrong decisions. The downside of this heavy concentration on war is that the book’s coverage of wartime politics and money is comparatively concise. (A brief, external comparison of the revolutionary financier Robert Morris Halton with the modern economist Arthur Laffer considering how economically incompetent it is, though, is probably the best thing he has done to underestimate money.)
The third and final part of the book deals with post-war events, extending beyond the adoption of the Constitution to the Whiskey Rebellion and the Indian campaign during the Washington administration. Halton’s approach to the Constitution reflects his earlier book on the subject, considering it a counter-revolution “on behalf of the government.” This conclusion is consistent with all recent scholarships, with certain authors approving the result or, like Holton, denying it. The final chapter deals properly with the territories lost by the First Nations. In evaluating the revolution, Holton finds advantages and disadvantages, with a little more emphasis on the latter, but this is ultimately a glass half-empty, half-full question. At one point he warned against “any attempt to explain the American Revolution.” Strictly Ideal terms ” [emphasis mine], But no serious historian I know has ever argued that the revolution was inspired only by ideals, not by economic interests, even if the ideals were of particular interest or subject to those particular historians. The two motives usually work in tandem, with Halton adding more weight to self-interest.
In short, Halton has enough hidden history Freedom is sweet The direction and details of the revolutionary era are used relatively rarely or are ignored in other general accounts. But as far as dramatic reversals of the standard interpretations of the revolution are concerned, the billing of the book’s subtitles appears to be partly confusing as “hidden history.”
[Editor’s note: An earlier shorter version of this review appeared in Reason (March 2022).]