Revisiting, Revising, and Reviving America's Founding Era Essay

6237 Words Mar 13th, 2013 25 Pages
Most Americans nowadays like to think that they have the American Revolution pretty well figured out. Conventional wisdom starts the saga in 1763 when Britain, saddled with debt at the close of the Seven Years' War, levied new taxes that prompted her American colonists to resist, and then to reject, imperial rule. Having declared independence and defeated the British, American patriots then drafted the constitution that remains the law of the land to this day. With George Washington's inauguration as president in 1789, the story has a happy ending and the curtain comes down. This time-honored script renders the road from colonies to nation clear, smooth, and straight, with familiar landmarks along the way, from Boston's Massacre and Tea …show more content…
Nor have the years since done much to shake the sense of knowing, too well, the American Revolution. Except for an occasional media event such as Mel Gibson's film "The Patriot," the Revolution has not come close to matching the fascination with the Civil War, as a visit to the history section of any bookstore will attest.(2)

The Founding Fathers would be surprised by our certainty, for they themselves were confused about the "course of human events" they had engineered, the very drama in which they starred. The glum, somewhat plaintive exchange quoted at the outset of this essay between John Adams and his friend Jefferson, written in the twilight of their lives, suggests how hard they thought it was to make sense of their Revolution.(3) Adams, Jefferson, and their contemporaries knew what generations since have largely forgotten: America's birth was a convoluted, unlikely, even far-fetched event. That a scattered, squabbling collection of loyal British subjects could, in a decade's span, turn into proud Americans bent upon independence; that they could then go on to defeat the greatest military power of the age; and that, having somehow managed this much, they could avoid falling out with one another in wrack and ruin--on

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