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Remembering the Revolution

Remembering the Revolution: Memory, History, and Nation Making from Independence to the Civil War

Michael A. McDonnell
Clare Corbould
Frances M. Clarke
W. Fitzhugh Brundage
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 344
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    Remembering the Revolution
    Book Description:

    In today’s United States, the legacy of the American Revolution looms large. From presidential speeches to bestselling biographies, from conservative politics to school pageants, everybody knows something about the Revolution. Yet what was a messy, protracted, divisive, and destructive war has calcified into a glorified founding moment of the American nation. Disparate events with equally diverse participants have been reduced to a few key scenes and characters, presided over by wellmeaning and wise old men. Recollections of the Revolution did not always take today’s form. In this lively collection of essays, historians and literary scholars consider how the first three generations of American citizens interpreted their nation’s origins. The volume introduces readers to a host of individuals and groups both well known and obscure, from Molly Pitcher and “forgotten father” John Dickinson to African American Baptists in Georgia and antebellum pacifists. They show how the memory of the Revolution became politicized early in the nation’s history, as different interests sought to harness its meaning for their own ends. No single faction succeeded, and at the outbreak of the Civil War the American people remained divided over how to remember the Revolution.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-277-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    MM, CC, FC and WFB
  4. INTRODUCTION The Revolution in American Life from 1776 to the Civil War
    (pp. 1-16)
    Michael A. McDonnell, Clare Corbould, Frances M. Clarke and W. Fitzhugh Brundage

    The American Revolution today is alive and well. Celebrated and revered, it is at the heart of American life. It drives the Tea Party movement and fuels history book publishing. It is central to the heritage industry and is represented in themed amusement parks. People from television celebrities to Supreme Court judges wonder aloud what the so-called founders would think about contemporary issues, while living-history actors and amateur reenactors bring to life the Revolution on historic battlefields across the eastern seaboard. Politicians from all parties draw upon stories of what is commonly referred to as the founding era to animate...

  5. Part I The Revolutionary Generation Remembers

    • War and Nationhood Founding Myths and Historical Realities
      (pp. 19-40)
      Michael A. McDonnell

      In his much-anticipated inaugural address in January 2009, President Barack H. Obama invoked the country’s founding moment—the American Revolution—no fewer than four separate times in charting a proposed path through the difficult years to come. Concluding with a call to action, Obama recalled a nation-defining moment during the Revolutionary War: “In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river,” he began. “The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the...

    • “A Natural & Unalienable Right” New England Revolutionary Petitions and African American Identity
      (pp. 41-57)
      Daniel R. Mandell

      On January 13, 1777, Prince Hall and seven other black men submitted a petition to the Massachusetts General Court, which consisted of the Massachusetts Revolutionary Council and the House of Representatives. The men sought freedom for “a great number of Negroes who are detained in a state of slavery in the Bowels of a free & Christian Country” and insisted on “a natural & unalienable right” to freedom, “which they have never forfeited by any compact or agreement.”¹ Such a petition was not unique—it was the fifth plea to end slavery sent to Massachusetts authorities since 1772—but what made it...

    • Forgotten Founder Revolutionary Memory and John Dickinson’s Reputation
      (pp. 58-74)
      Peter Bastian

      If any politically aware colonist in mid-1774 were to name the best-known patriot in North America, it would not have been anyone we now think of as being among the Founding Fathers. Instead, the most likely answer would have been John Dickinson, the “Pennsylvania Farmer.” Dickinson had been a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress, where he provided the draft for most of its resolutions. Opposing British attempts to tax the colonies, he pennedLetters from a Pennsylvania Farmer, making a clever distinction between Parliament’s right to regulate trade and the power to tax directly.¹ After this publication he was...

    • The Graveyard Aesthetics of Revolutionary Elegiac Verse Remembering the Revolution as a Sacred Cause
      (pp. 75-92)
      Evert Jan van Leeuwen

      In his essay on the role poetry plays in constructing a collective memory of American origins, Robert Pinsky defines Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride” (1861) as a “conscious effort” to construct a long-lasting myth of the Revolution. Pinsky highlights the poem’s success by pointing out that “many Americans, including [the late] Senator Edward Kennedy, have much of the poem by heart.”¹ In his folk ballad, Longfellow overtly casts the Revolution in a heroic and adventurous light—as the victory of a small group of men that “ended with the overthrow of a tyrannical monarchy and its replacement with a...

    • “Starving Memory” Antinarrating the American Revolution
      (pp. 93-109)
      William Huntting Howell

      Like so many wars of the distant past, the American Revolution narrates beautifully in the popular imagination. There is a beginning: April 1775—what Ralph Waldo Emerson calls “the shot heard round the world”—in which a once-reluctant and economically diverse populace beats its ploughshares into swords.¹ There is a set of progressive middles, unfolding against now-hallowed spaces: independence is declared in Philadelphia; epic battles are fought at Bunker Hill, at Saratoga, at Trenton, at Cowpens, at Yorktown. There are colorful heroes—George Washington, Ethan Allen, the Marquis de Lafayette, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Casimir Pulaski—who rise to their various occasions;...

    • Public Memories, Private Lives The First Greatest Generation Remembers the Revolutionary War
      (pp. 110-124)
      Caroline Cox

      On July 4, 1837, a large crowd gathered in Newburyport, Massachusetts, to hear John Quincy Adams, Congressman and former president, give a speech at the town’s Independence Day festivities. He encouraged those in the audience to reflect on evil British “usurpations” before the war and celebrated “the good name, the sufferings, and the services of that [Revolutionary] age.” Then Adams invited those gathered to “look … forward” and consider the political problems of their own time as the Revolutionary generation passed away.¹

      By the time Adams delivered his speech in Newburyport, orations by prominent figures on the Fourth of July...

  6. Part II Transmitting Memories

    • “More Than Ordinary Patriotism” Living History in the Memory Work of George Washington Parke Custis
      (pp. 127-143)
      Seth C. Bruggeman

      Americans love revival. Renaissance fairs, battle reenactments, and time-traveling television shows have all become enduring fixtures in the cultural landscape. At historic sites and museums where playacting passes for pedagogy, the phrase “living history” distinguishes studied reenactment from amateur histrionics. Plimoth Plantation, Conner’s Prairie, and Greenfield Village are just a few examples of living-history museums where education and research commingle with high-order simulation. Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg is probably the most famous, but it too is only one of many whose intellectual roots historians usually associate with either the historic-house museum movement born at Mount Vernon during the 1850s or Artur...

    • Plagiarism in Pursuit of Historical Truth George Chalmers and the Patriotic Legacy of Loyalist History
      (pp. 144-161)
      Eileen Ka-May Cheng

      In 1844 George Bancroft indignantly dismissed charges that he had plagiarized from the loyalist George Chalmers for the fourth volume of his history. He characterized such charges as “a tissue of falsehoods from beginning to end,” arguing, “who would suppose that I would break the unity and consistency of my own style and narrative by patching upon it the language and doctrines of an English tory respecting our American revolution? The suggestion is ridiculous.”¹ Yet plagiarize from the “tory” Chalmers’sPolitical Annalsis just what Bancroft did in the first two volumes of his history, following the lead of other...

    • Emma Willard’s “True Mnemonic of History” America’s First Textbooks, Proto-Feminism, and the Memory of the Revolution
      (pp. 162-178)
      Keith Beutler

      On Thursday, May 1, 1828, in Troy, New York, schoolmistress Emma Willard, author of the soon-to-be best-sellingHistory of the United States, dedicated the work in verse to her mother, Lydia Hinsdale Hart:

      Accept this offering of a daughter’s love …

      Mother, few are left,

      Like thee, who felt the fire of freedom’s holy time

      Pervade and purify the patriot breast.

      Thou wert within thy country’s shattered bark,

      When, trusting Heaven, she rode the raging seas,

      And braved with dauntless death-defying front

      The storm of war. With me retrace the scene,

      Then view her peace, her wealth, her liberty and...

    • Remembering and Forgetting War, Memory, and Identity in the Post-Revolutionary Mohawk Valley
      (pp. 179-197)
      James Paxton

      Emerging silently from the woods, a party of Haudenosaunee (Six Nations) warriors stole unnoticed across the farmyard and through the cabin door. The killing began almost before the inhabitants, a mother and her several children, had time to register the intrusion. Later, while warriors hunched over corpses, working their knives to obtain scalps, a group of loyalist soldiers entered the cabin to survey the scene. Across the room, overlooked in the confusion, a baby stirred in its cradle. A warrior raised his tomahawk, but on seeing the infant dropped the weapon and bent to pick up the child. Cursing the...

    • “Lie There My Darling, While I Avenge Ye!” Anecdotes, Collective Memory, and the Legend of Molly Pitcher
      (pp. 198-214)
      Emily Lewis Butterfield

      In July 1830 newspapers around the country published this reprint of “A Tale of ’76” with the subtitle “Captain Molly”:

      Before the two armies, American and English, had begun the general action of Monmouth, two of the advanced batteries commenced a very severe fire against each other. As the warmth was excessive, the wife of a cannonier constantly ran to bring water for him from a neighboring spring. At the moment when she started from the spring to pass to the post of her husband, she saw him fall, and hastened to assist him; but he was dead. At the...

  7. Part III Dividing Memories

    • Forgetting History Antebellum American Peace Reformers and the Specter of the Revolution
      (pp. 217-233)
      Carolyn Eastman

      Anew era has commenced in history,” wrote peace reformer William Ladd in the preface of his reform-minded children’s book,Adventures of a French Soldier(1831), a radical retelling of a war memoir then circulating in the United States. In the past, Ladd explained, no one had questioned whether war was a necessity; history books commonly offered up heroic accounts of military officers and great battles. In doing so, however, “the death and sufferings of the privates are passed over in the aggregate, and no other account is made of them.” Instead, war histories written by ordinary soldiers offered the...

    • “Of Course We Claim to Be Americans” Revolution, Memory, and Race in Up-Country Georgia Baptist Churches, 1772–1849
      (pp. 234-248)
      Daryl Black

      Scholars have long recognized the connections between evangelical religion and colonial rebellion in British North America. The religious revivals of the mid-eighteenth century created among many colonists a powerful sense of local autonomy that helped drive the movement for political independence. During the Revolution, evangelical faith provided comfort that the patriot cause was God’s cause. It remains less clear how local practices of evangelicalism merged with specific experiences of the American Revolution to shape communities of memory and make real the abstractions of nationalism.¹ Americans expressed and communicated national narratives in many forms—in parades, in pamphlets, in newspapers, and...

    • “A Strange and Crowded History” Transnational Revolution and Empire in George Lippard’s Washington and His Generals
      (pp. 249-264)
      Tara Deshpande

      In the midst of the U.S.-Mexican War George Lippard published a weighty volume of fictionalized historical tales of the American Revolution, which he ended with this call to arms. With this image and the accompanying promise of a sequel set in Mexico,Washington and His Generals; or, Legends of the Revolutionensured that its readers would connect the ongoing war with their nation’s history and interpreted the American Revolution as a patriotic example that they should strive to live up to as they took its ideals to new lands. His efforts connected with a great many Americans. Lippard was an...

    • “The Sacred Ashes of the First of Men” Edward Everett, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union, and Late Antebellum Unionism
      (pp. 265-279)
      Matthew Mason

      Decades ago, in what is today an unjustly neglected work, scholar George B. Forgie illustrated how two cults that assumed gigantic proportions in the 1850s—those of domesticity and of George Washington—came together in the activities of Edward Everett. From the late 1850s into 1860 Everett traveled the country delivering his oration on “The Character of Washington,” donating the proceeds from these lectures to the purchase of the dilapidated Mount Vernon estate to preserve it as a national treasure. Americans’ enthusiastic response to Everett’s oration suggests a widespread demand for its message in the very late antebellum United States....

    • Martyred Blood and Avenging Spirits Revolutionary Martyrs and Heroes as Inspiration for the U.S. Civil War
      (pp. 280-293)
      Sarah J. Purcell

      On June 25, 1861, the volunteers in the Second Vermont Regiment stopped in New York City on their way to be mustered into federal service in Washington, D.C. After dining at the Park Barracks, where troops from many Northern states were gathering in the opening days of the Civil War, the Vermonters assembled in front of city hall at 2 p.m. for a formal ceremony and flag presentation from the “sons of Vermont.” Despite the heat, the ten companies wore their full dress uniforms with gray wool coats and caps, each of which displayed an evergreen sprig that signaled Vermont...

    • Old-Fashioned Tea Parties Revolutionary Memory in Civil War Sanitary Fairs
      (pp. 294-312)
      Frances M. Clarke

      In early 1864 an invitation was issued to visitors at the Northern Ohio Sanitary Fair to attend a “Continental tea-party” in the “costume and style of 1776.” Invitees entered a room with ten lavishly decorated tables, around which sat men dressed to represent well-known Revolutionary figures, from Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, to an assortment of generals, all accompanied by their wives. A performer in the guise of George Washington occupied the center table, along with his ersatz spouse and mother. Punch bowls, silverware, china, and a variety of treasured heirlooms—some of them said to have been used by the...

  8. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 313-318)
  9. Index
    (pp. 319-330)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 331-331)