Taming Democracy: "The People", The Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution

Taming Democracy: "The People", The Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution

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Americans are fond of reflecting upon the Founding Fathers as selfless patriots who came together to force out the tyranny of the British and bring democracy to the land. Unfortunately, as Terry Bouton shows in this highly provocative first book, the Revolutionary elite often seemed as determined to squash democracy after the War of Independence as they were to support it before the conflict. Centering on Pennsylvania, the symbolic center of the story of democracy's rise during the Revolution, Bouton shows how this radical shift in ideology spelled tragedy for thousands of common people. Leading up to the Revolution, most Pennsylvanians were united in their opinion that "the people" (i.e. white men) should be given access to the political system, and that some degree of wealth equality was required to ensure that political freedom prevailed. As the war ended, Pennsylvania's elites began abandoning these ideas and instead embraced a new vision of the Revolution where government worked to transfer wealth to "moneyed men." By the 1780s, that effort had led them to reenact many of the same laws that they had gone to war to abolish, creating a deep economic depression. When ordinary citizens fought back and tried to reclaim their own vision of the Revolution, the founding elite remade governments to scale back the meaning and practice of democracy. It was this radical narrowing of popular ideals that led directly to the misnamed Whiskey and Fries rebellions, popular uprisings during the 1790s that were both put down by federal armies. Bouton's work reveals a unique perspective, showing intimately how the war and the events that followed affected the majority of "the people": small farmers, craftsmen, and laborers. Bouton introduces us to the Revolution's unsung heroes - farmers, weavers, and tailors who risked their lives to create democracy and then to defend it against what they called the forces of "united avarice." We also get a starkly new look some familiar characters from the Revolution, including Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Robert Morris, and George Washington, men who Bouton strives to make readers see as real, flawed people, blinded by their own sense of entitlement.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 344 pages
  • 152.4 x 233.68 x 25.4mm | 498.95g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 11 halftones, 2 line illustrations
  • 0195378563
  • 9780195378566
  • 667,094

Review quote

Taming Democracy will have a major impact on early American historians and further the re-evaluation of the entire Revolutionary period. Boutons book will revitalize the economic interpretation of the era. * Allan Kulikoff, University of Georgia * Prominent citizens like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton considered the American Revolution an unruly steed, and they devoted considerable energy to reining it in. Terry Boutons superbly-written account of how they achieved that feat leaves us wishing they had failed. The focus of Boutons startlingly-original book is nothing less than the struggle for the soul of America. * Woody Holton, University of Richmond * The whiskey rebellion clearly has been misnamed: Bouton argues convincingly that it grew out of two decades of struggles by Pennsylvania's farmers with moneyed men for the fruits of the Revolution. He tells their story in gripping scenes of the sheriff's wagon carting off the belongings of debtors and of farmers defiantly closing down roads. This is a book about the Revolution that breaks new ground. * Alfred Young, author of Liberty Tree: Ordinary People and the American Revolution * For many ordinary Americans living in Pennsylvania, the Revolution did not turn out as they had hoped. Committed to the creation of a more egalitarian society, they resisted British rule, only to discover that the rich and well-born had no interest in supporting serious democratic reform. In this compelling study, Bouton brings passion and insight to the bittersweet story of the betrayal of a truly revolutionary society. * T.H. Breen, Director, Center for Historical Studies, Northwestern University * In thoughtful, readable prose Terry Bouton shows us what the American Revolution meant for one group who counted: the small-scale farmers of Pennsylvania. They struggled; they thought; they fought. Ultimately they lost what they believed what they had won, a world that would be good for them and their families. The Revolution belonged to Bouton's kind of people, ordinary Americans living through an extraordinary time, as much as it did to the Founding Fathers. * Edward Countryman, author of The American Revolution * This is a rare book - scholarly yet written with verve, readable for pleasure as well as for knowledge. * Publishers Weekly *show more

About Terry Bouton

Terry Bouton is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.show more

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Rating details

69 ratings
3.89 out of 5 stars
5 30% (21)
4 41% (28)
3 22% (15)
2 3% (2)
1 4% (3)
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