In his appraisal of revolution in the Western Hemisphere, Lester D. Langley outlines hemispheric political change in the years from 1750 to 1850. The book explores European political stresses and the emergence of fundamental dissatisfactions in the New World, and also considers how colonial leaders mobilized support for their anti-European campaigns. Langley presents not a detailed history of colonial wars, but an overview of the sources and processes of popular revolutionary struggles.
One of the strengths of the book is its extensive geographical coverage: it explores pressures for independence in Great Britain’s North American domains as well as the dissolution of Spanish and French imperial power in Venezuela, Mexico, Chile, Peru, and Haiti. In each case Langley emphasizes the roles of such institutions as the European monarchies and the Catholic Church in revolutionary upheaval. The book also examines the colonial slave economies and the slaves’ search for freedom, and Europeans’ failure to see native populations in the Americas as anything more than savages. Langley explores tensions between native peoples, slaves, and free men during and after the American revolutions, pointing to the racial and ethnic struggles which later wracked all the Americas.
One missing feature is the importance of gender in the American revolutions. Native peoples, slaves, and colonialists are assumed to be exclusively male, and there is no consideration of women’s plight in any of these groups. For this readers must look elsewhere.
This book emphasizes political and economic change, and therefore better accommodates the reader who wishes to survey the nature of revolution than the reader looking for key sequences of diplomatic or military engagements. For those already familiar with the basic outline of revolutionary events, this book makes for compelling and enlightening reading.