The main idea of this book is to use historical events starting from American Revolution until 1850 to convince reader that there were two different enlightenments. One was good – radical enlightenment promoting human rights, all things nice, and mainly represented by French revolution and Thomas Paine’s side of American Revolution. Another one bad – moderate enlightenment, promoting populism, nationalism, property rights detrimental to non-propertied people, and mainly represented by other side of American revolution: Washington, Adams, and later majority of politicians of both parties. The Paine’s side is responsible for huge impact of American Revolution on the political development in Europe and America in direction of more democracy and freedom, while Adam’s side is responsible for decline of this influence and transformation of America into ugly caricature by 1850s.
Introduction: The American Revolution and the Origins of Democratic Modernity
From the very beginning author sets up his position of dividing American revolution into two: somewhat conservative national revolution of Franklin and Washington seeking freedom from British aristocracy and mainly retaining institutions of American society, and Atlantic revolution of Jefferson and Paine that was seeking equal rights for all and fundamental change of society’s institutions in manner closely associated with French revolution. Author stresses that both sides were not entirely consistent, nevertheless he defines them as mainly unreconcilable aristocratic republicanism vs. democratic republicanism. He then discusses similar division in Britain, France, and other western European countries. Author stresses that this book traces impact of American revolution on the developments in the world, where it prompted such latent division to develop in some cases into violent French-like revolution, in some cases into British-like peaceful reform, some cases mix of all above, but in all cases moving humanity away from previous hierarchical order of kings and aristocracy of birth to the new world of formal equality and aristocracy of success.
- First Rumblings
The chapter starts with Adams’ letter to Jefferson where he pointed out that revolution actually occurred before 1775 and it happened in the minds of people. From here author discusses developments of 1760 – 1775, which created huge gap between Britain and its citizens that happened to live in America. As usual this gap was mainly between regular people that were trying to use opportunities created by the new country and elite that had different considerations. Probably the most important was imperial decree of 1763 that established limits on western settlement. This followed by increase in duties, monopolization of trade and multitude of other decisions that against interests of regular people like Stamp act of 1765. Author traces these measures and increasingly negative reaction to them that was obtaining more and more violent character. The chapter ends with events of February 1775 when Parliament reaffirmed its supremacy over colonies
- A Republican Revolution
This chapter is retelling of events of 1774-1776 that lead from growing rejection of British rule and recognition by colonials their need in creating the new entity of United States, if they to keep the democratic self-rule as it developed in 13 American States. In addition to narrating events author looks at philosophical underpinning of these events that he defines as Philadelphia Radicalism connected to Thomas Paine and represented by Philadelphia Constitution in competition with conservatism of John Adams and Hamilton. Author also briefly reviews events of Revolutionary war.
- Revolutionary Constitutionalism and the Federal Union (1776-90)
This starts with discussion on dichotomy of two opposing principles that author calls “aristocratic” and “democratic” and how it was played out in States constitutions. The general approach author takes here is that Pennsylvania constitution, with its one level legislature, was democratic, while other constitutions with 2 levels of congress and senate were aristocratic since it provided superior representation in form of senate to the top layers of society. After is reviewing a few states and literature on the issue. After that author moves to Federal government and provides similar analysis. At the end of chapter author discusses issues of church / state separations.
- Schooling Republicans
This is about intellectual struggle preceding the constitution. Author puts Paine, Franklin, and Jefferson on the side of democracy and Locke, John Adams, and Washington with their somewhat conservative views on opposite side. Author expressly stands against “moderates”, their fear of powerful government, and attempts to prevent it by dividing power. One important issue was education with “democrats” pushing for government controlled universal mass secular education, while “moderates” saw it as local issue to be handled without unified control. Similar attitude was extended to everything else from roads to poor relieve. The remaining part of the chapter was about establishment of colleges and general failure of “radicals” in the face of the second Great Awakening that returned many Americans back to their religious and moral roots.
- Benjamin Franklin: “American Icon?
Here author retells story of Ben Franklin and his evolution from prosperous British citizen into American revolutionary who risked everything by getting to the side of revolution. Then author reviews events of French revolution and Franklin’s situation in Paris during preceding period. Author’s conclusion is that “though not classed as radical, Franklin became a leading light of “Radical Enlightenment”.
- Black Emancipation: Confronting Slavery in the New Republic
This starts with trivial accusation of Americans in hypocrisy: “all men are created equal” in country with slavery. Author correctly stresses that the accusers, whether British or loyalists, really did not believe in equality of black and were as racist as anybody but found it useful tool against American patriots. It follows by look at the revolutionary war in which British tried to use attacks against slavery and liberation of slaves in their war efforts with some success. After that author discusses early abolitionist movement in America of 1780-90 mainly based on religious ideals, despite general believe in inferiority of blacks. All this eventually led to slowly moving, but sustainable process of slavery abolition in the North over period of 1780 to 1848.
- Expropriating the Native Americans
This chapter is about another eternal sin of Americans – expropriation of Native Americans. This was also a very long process mainly dependent on arrival of new settlers and their demand for land. Author description of this process follows typical narrative of broken treaties, violence, cruelty, and sometimes genocide. Also, as usual, author forgets to mention that overall numbers of Indians were very small, their societies tribal and poorly organized, even if quite competitive militarily, and constantly fighting between themselves. So the struggle was not between Whites and Indians, but rather between different tribes of whites (French and British) with allied with them Indian tribes.
8 Whites Dispossessed
This chapter is about poor whites and frictions between them and other population. Author discusses economic situation in Pennsylvania in late 1770s when inflation and deficiencies led to armed mob gangs fighting each other and government. Author describes in more details fight over price regulation and other issues. Author laments that radical revolutionary leaders failed fully support the mob against merchants. The net result was the change in Pennsylvania that eventually led to elimination of author’s beloved constitution and switch to more typical American type with main beneficiaries being property owning middle classes. Naturally, author also goes through Shays’ rebellion (1786-87) and related problems caused by machinations with revolutionary debt that ended up with enrichment of well-connected and practical robbery of poorly connected who were first given promissory note in exchange for goods and services during the war, which they sold at small fraction of the nominal to speculators and then had to pay taxes so the speculators could obtain full value of the notes. All this did not go that well for relations between top and bottom of American society.
9 Canada: An Ideological Conflict
This is about failure of American invasion of Canada that left this part of America in the hand of British that then was greatly reinforced by American Tories, resulting not only in it’s staying within British Empire, but also in forming completely different culture to significant extent countering American culture. Author describes an interesting interplay between French Canadian Catholics, British, and Americans resulting in defeat of American efforts. All this did not end with the end of revolutionary war, but continued afterword, all the way until the end of war of 1812, which mainly settled the issue.
- John Adams’s “American Revolution”
This chapters starts with Adam’s diplomatic effort during revolutionary war when he was quite successful in getting loans and other help from Dutch but proved to be no match to Franklin in dealing with French. From here author moves to discuss Dutch colonial problems in South Africa and elsewhere, caused by American example, and eventually to Anglo-Dutch war. Author discusses complex fight between moderates and radical that eventually led to Orange coup of 1787.
- Jefferson’s French Revolution
The author’s take on Jefferson is as an ideologue who somewhat opposed British enlightenment and supported French philosophers. Author retells Jefferson’s diplomatic efforts in France and his strong support for French revolution all the way to the brink of treason against America when he was close to violating Washington neutrality policy. After that author is going into details of French revolution and following years, making the point about American influence on these developments. Author describes Jacobin terror with, not if approval, then with somewhat of understanding, at least when it was directed at “moderates”. However, he points out that it was way too much for Jefferson who believed Robespierre to be betrayer of revolution.
- A Tragic Case: The Irish Revolution (1775-98)
The chapter on Irish revolution does not present some American sponsor like Jefferson for France. However, author still traces it to the American Revolution as the 4thcountry after Canada, Holland, and France prompted to revolution by American example. In addition to national movement against Britain it also had catholic vs. protestant angle that did not make it any easier. Author describes the process of maturing of Irish revolution, which eventually explode in 1798. It failed mainly due to low levels of understanding and support from masses.
- America’s “Conservative Turn”: The Emerging “Party System” in the 1790s
Here author discusses birth of American two-party system that he relates to two opposite revolutionary traditions. One was the party of Federalists and another of Democrat – Republican. Author links Federalists not only to Americans, but also philosophically to Adam Smith and Burke. Correspondingly the other one is linked to French philosophers from Rousseau to Brissot and Condorcet. This follows by the story of citizen Genet and his attempt to establish French control over American republic and push it to the war with Britain. As part of this discussion author brings the Whiskey Rebellion, as and example of struggle between these two directions of democracy. Eventually, this struggle somewhat decreased after Sedition act and its rejection that brought Jefferson to power.
14 America and the Haitian Revolution
This is unusually detailed and very interesting story of Haitian Revolution that first time in history created republic of lacks, mainly former slaves who successfully, albeit with big help from tropical diseases, conducted war against France and managed to obtain and maintain independence not only through war, but also through diplomacy maneuvering between France, America, and Britain. Despite seemingly similar republican ideals, USA rejected to provide serious help and left Haitians alone as well as did all other European powers after massacres of whites. Author seems to be not considers these massacres as a good enough reason for rejection of Haitian state that USA maintained until 1862.
- Louisiana and the Principles of “76
For some reason author starts this chapter with detailed narrative of the story of Thomas Paine and eventually failure of his vision of American revolutionary movement. Author links this to changes in Pennsylvania constitution that until that represented this ideology. Then author moves to the narrative of Louisiana purchase story, which is much more realistic and makes a lot more sense than usual narrative of Napoleon needing money and not knowing what to do with this huge territory. Actually, Napoleon had pretty good plan of strengthening New Orleans and then moving up on Mississippi, cutting off American western movement and creating powerful extension of French Empire in North America. This plan, however, became quite unfeasible, forcing Napoleon to make choice either to take money in exchange for land or just loose it to Americans without compensation. He obviously made a wise choice.
- A Revolutionary Era: Napoleon, Spain, and the Americas (1808-15)
The next stop in review of American influence is Spanish revolution of 1808-14. Author reviews penetration and development of enlightenment ideas in Spain and especially work of Francisco Cabarrus. Author looks at interplay between developments in Spain and in Spanish America, which kind of fed on each other, while moving development to revolution. It was also linked to French occupation of the Spain. The result of this movement was Cadiz Constitution of 1812 that limited role of monarch and to large extent echoed French approach and rejecting American. It lasted only until end of Napoleonic rule and was completely removed by Fernando VII after return to power. After that he sent expeditionary force that successfully suppressed budding republics of Spanish America, returning them under monarchic rule. However this success for only temporary and from 1819 till 1830 Bolivar succeeded in creating multiple Latin American republics with highly corrupted and unstable regimes that continue in this mode pretty much for the next 200 years.
- Reaction, Radicalism, and Americanisme under “the Restoration” (1814 – 30)
Here author moves back to Europe to look at restoration period after defeat of Napoleon. While it looked like monarchy and aristocracy coming back to power everywhere and revolutionary turmoil of the last 25 years left behind, the reality was that population attitude changed and despite restoration of preexisting old order by Vienna Congress, there were no real way back. Author describes initially latent resistance to restoration elsewhere in the world. One of the clear signs of these restorations was laxity with which officials treated former revolutionaries and promoters of radical ideas. During this period democratic America remained the beacon of enlightenment, albeit of conservative, moderate type. Author describes in some detail cultural movements of period, especially romanticism that clearly undermined loyalty to the monarchy. Author also looks at Spanish revolution of 1820-23 and how it led to the end of Spain’s American empire. In short – restoration, while on the surface successful, was anything but, demonstrating internal cracks just about everywhere.
- The Greek Revolution (1770-1830)
Here author describes the Greek’s struggle for independence against Ottoman Empire that was massively supported by European countries, based not only on religious motivation, but also on expansion of ideas of Enlightenment and culture of Romanticism. In this light author reviews the career of Adamantios Korais who promoted Enlightenment ideas especially in their French radical form throughout this period. The Greek revolution failed to create coherent power system and eventually was pushed away by the monarchy imposed by the members of Vienna Congress. In this case as well as in cases of other failed revolutions of the period author looks at American influence on these development, even if it was purely ideological with little if any material resources transferred.
- The Freedom Fighters of the 1830s
Here author initially looks at culture that was developed after 50 years of war and revolution, which was mainly culture of Radical Enlightenment that was targeting removal of monarchy, aristocracy, and religious powers and substitution of these powers with some form of new power structure that would be not as rigid and provided more space for free thinking, communicating, and political acting. Eventually it led to French revolution of 1930 and author again links it to cultural and ideological influence of America. Similarly author discusses the Belgian and Polish revolutions of this period.
- The Revolutions of 1848: Democratic Republicanism Versus Socialism
The next stop in this journey are revolutions of 1848 when the new ideological engine start working –socialism. These revolutions started in Scandinavia and only then moved to other European countries: France, Germany, Italy and many others. The two forces moving these revolutions: Democratic republicanism and socialism proved to be not exactly reconcilable, eventually weakening these revolutions and leading to their morphing in something intermediate between old regime and democratic republic, nicely represented by French regime of Napoleon III.
- American Reaction (1848-52)
In this chapter author returns back to America and discusses American attitude to revolutionary events in Europe and its own development into political crisis. Author looks at various movements in America from collectivistic commune in Ohio to Dorr’s war – militant movement against property qualification for voting that included small scale armed confrontation in Rhode Island. Overall European revolutions of 1848 were met with huge enthusiasm in America. From here author somehow moves to discussion of slavery in America, Wilmot Proviso, fugitive slaves controversies, and overall increasing tensions about these issues. Finally author discusses ideological stand off between Conservative Populism and Socialism with emerging divide between America where socialism mainly lost and Europe where it mainly won. The final part of the chapter discusses American “Forty -Eighters” – European radicals who escaped to America after defeat of revolutions and immediately started building foundation of future American leftism including treasonous communist movement of XX century and educational subversion that came to fruition in early XXI century – nearly 200 years after its seeds were planted.
Conclusion: ‘‘Exceptionalism,” Populism, and the Radical Enlightenment’s
The conclusion of this lengthy book is that American Revolution had huge impact on political and cultural development of the whole world. It especially obvious in European countries culturally and religiously close to emerging American state, which become ideological and cultural superpower prompting and sometimes supporting such developments morally and sometimes materially, long before it become military and industrial superpower in XX century. However author strives mightily to demonstrate that American Revolution is not logical development of British Culture and history and especially the Glorious revolution of 1688, somewhat opposite to French revolution, but rather product of Enlightenment common for both American and French revolution with Paine and to smaller extent Jefferson pretty much in synch with Robespierre and his ilk. Author discusses this controversy and then somehow concludes that victory in America of “moderate enlightenment”, populism, and property rights led to situation when America “ceased to represent a universal model”, become country of “bigotry and prejudice”, and by 1850s was not an internationally inspiring spectacle”.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that this book represent the great collection of historical data, nicely summarized and thoughtfully presented. However its ideological underpinning sounds ridiculous for me. I agree that there were two different enlightenments, but I would not call any of them moderate. Both were radical and both were directed to taking power away from aristocracy and substitute monarchy by the new form of government. The difference was in believe who should have this power. The answer of British / American enlightenment is: nobody. The power of state should be limited; people in power interchangeable, and it should be divided in smaller chunks, so that nobody could usurp it. The answer of French enlightenment is: highly educated intellectual elite, that always know “who WE are”, “what WE want to achieve”, “were is ARK OF HISTORY going”, and be ready and willing to use all violence and deception necessary to force and/or cheat all members of society to move in “correct” direction.
The first one – American Enlightenment brought in single-family house with 2 cars, unlimited amounts of food, soap operas, and all other lowbrow staff that regular people want and elite despise. The second one – French entitlement brought in Jacobins, socialism, and communism with their mass killing, concentration camps, and other niceties.