Faces of Revolution Essay - Critical Essays

Faces of Revolution

FACES OF REVOLUTION explores the lives of eight individuals whose stories may be read as a biographical gloss on Bailyn’s THE IDEOLOGICAL ORIGINS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION (1967). Through John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Hutchinson, and Thomas Paine, Bailyn shows how ideologies, fears, and frustrations moved people who moved American history between 1765 and 1776. He examines the personal responses that these four men brought to public life and then uses the example of Harbottle Dorr, a Boston shipkeeper who collected, annotated, and indexed a complete set of Boston newspapers during the same period, to illustrate how deeply political ideas—liberty and constitutionalism, the hatred of privilege and arbitrary power—resonated with the ordinary citizen.

Through the lives of three clergymen, Andrew Eliot, Jonathan Mayhew, and Stephen Johnson, Bailyn explores the ways that religion both stimulated and deterred revolutionary sentiment. Sermons could express political ideas, sometimes with unintended consequences, as Mayhew found when a defiant pulpit oration during the height of the Stamp Act crisis apparently motivated the Boston mob that destroyed Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s house.

In four concluding thematic essays, Bailyn summarizes the theses that have been the heart of his work over the years. He rejects the Progressive school of historiography that attributes the Revolution to social discontent and economic dislocation and with it any notion of the inevitability of rebellion; he lays the blame, as the colonists did, with British policies that appeared calculated to deprive them of both liberty and property. Nor does Bailyn accept the idea of the Constitution as a conservative reaction against the ideals of the Revolution. The book will be familiar territory to Bailyn readers, a graceful summary of his early scholarship.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXVII, September 1, 1990, p.22.

Boston Globe. August26, 1990, p.41.

Chicago Tribune. August 19, 1990, XIV, p.1.

Kirkus Reviews. LVIII, July 15, 1990, p.973.

Library Journal. CXV, August, 1990, p. 121.

The New York Times Book Review. XCV, September 9, 1990, p.10.

The New Yorker. LXVI, October 8, 1990, p.117.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVII, July 20, 1990, p.46.

San Francisco Chronicle. October 21, 1990, p. REV7.

Washington Times. October 11, 1990, p. G3.