What Kind of a Revolution Did We get?

Gordon Wood: "Americans were not born free and democratic in any modern sense; they became so—and largely as a consequence of the American Revolution. After eighteenth-century Americans threw off their monarchical allegiance in 1776, they struggled to find new attachments befitting a republican people. Living in a society that was already diverse and pluralistic, Americans realized that these attachments could not be the traditional ethnic, religious, and tribal loyalties of the Old World. Instead, they sought new enlightened connections to hold their new popular societies together. But when these proved too idealistic and visionary, they eventually found new democratic adhesives in the actual behavior of plain ordinary people—in the everyday desire for the freedom to make money and pursue happiness in the here and now. To base a society on the commonplace behavior of ordinary people may be obvious and understandable to us today, but it was momentously radical in the long sweep of world history up to that time. This book attempts to explain this momentous radicalism of the American Revolution."

Gordon Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (p. 2). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.


Gordon S. Wood,

The Radicalism of the American Revolution,

Vintage; Reprint edition (March 2, 1993),

ISBN 978-0679736882



Wilfred McClay,

Land of Hope,

Encounter Books,

ISBN ‎ 978-1641713771

Wilfred McClay, Land of Hope:
"There were unsettling questions for the Americans about the revolutionary journey on which they found themselves embarked. What sort of effect was this war having on the social and political life of the colonies-becoming-a-nation? How was it changing things? If this was to be a revolution, how thoroughgoing a revolution was it to be? Was, in fact, the world being turned upside down – or merely right side up? The latter might have seemed more likely. As we’ve seen, the most influential justifications offered in favor of revolution invoked not radical change but rather restoration – restoring and protecting the colonists’ customary rights as Englishmen – as the pretext for revolution. But like any great historical event, the American Revolution was complicated, with many aspects. Even those fighting on the same side sometimes saw the cause differently. To a greater extent than many of us appreciate today, the Revolutionary War took on many of the aspects of a civil war, pitting Loyalists against Patriots; dividing families, towns, regions, and social classes; and producing fierce struggles over fundamental political and social values.values. Loyalty to the Crown had been the instinctive response of a sizable minority of Americans. But for some, the resonant words of the Declaration of Independence pointed toward a larger aspiration, something more than mere restoration. Such an interpretation pointed toward the emergence on the world stage of something genuinely new: a republican order built upon a principled commitment to both equality and liberty. Historians have been arguing for generations which of these different tendencies was dominant and hence which offers us the best way to think about the Revolution. Was the Revolution essentially conservative in its objectives, merely seeking to separate America from Britain to return the political order to what it had been before the disruptions caused by clumsy and wrongheaded British colonial policies? Or was it something radical, in the sense of wishing to shake things up, dramatically and fundamentally upending the entrenched inequalities and hierarchies in society, and not merely changing the names and faces of those at the top of the political structure? As the American historian Carl Becker, who strongly advocated for the latter view, put it memorably more than a hundred years ago, “the war was not about home rule, but about who would rule at home.”

McClay, Wilfred M.. Land of Hope (pp. 58-59). Encounter Books.


Gordon Wood,

Empire of Liberty,

Oxford University Press; 1st edition (October 28, 2009),

ISBN 978-0195039146