I need help composing a short paper in response to this question:
According to Holton, the American Revolution in Virginia, commonly believed to be the struggle by Virginian “gentlemen” to protect and expand their freedom, was the result of the powerful influence of non-elites: Indians, debtors, merchants, slaves, and smallholders (yeomen). The assertion that populations considered to be largely powerless in Virginian society could inspire revolution is unique. How, According to Holton, did each of the non-elite groups push Virginia’s gentlemen into revolution? Do you agree with Holton’s argument for the causes of the Revolution or do you think that the Revolution was simply a revolt against British taxes and monarchy?
Who were all these groups? How did they push the gentlemen of Virginia into revolution?
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Woody Holton's Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia is an essentially Marxist interpretation of Virginia's entrance into the American Revolution. It follows a tradition, sometimes associated with the Annales school of history in analyzing "history from below", of emphasizing the importance of ordinary people rather than just leaders such as Washington and Jefferson.
For your thesis statement you could argue that "Woody Holton's Forced Founders not only argues for a change in the way we think about the causes of one specific event, the entry of Virginia into the American Revolution, but also argues for a change in the way we practice history." Next, you would need to include a transition sentence that talks about the major examples of groups you will be discussing.
Rather than begin the main body of your essay with your examples, you should include a short section summarizing the historical perspective that Holton sets out in his introductory chapters. You should mention that traditional histories tend to focus on "great men", rich and powerful members of the gentry, but that Marxist history is more interested in class, economics, climate, ideology, and other common factors than on the notion of a small group of heroic individuals as the key to explaining history.
One major group discussed by Holden that would be a good subject for the first body section in your essay would be Native Americans. Because they were often allied with the British in an effort to prevent colonists from grabbing their lands, they provoked many settlers into supporting the Revolution.
The next body section might focus on African-Americans and the slave trade. As the British were increasing taxing the slave trade, and Evangelicals in Britain were pushing for its abolition, some Virginian slave owners were pushed in the direction of rebellion as an effort to save a culture and economy highly dependent upon slavery.
In your conclusion, you should use evidence from the body sections of your essay to agree or disagree with Holton's claims. As his book was quite controversial, there is no "right" answer; some people agree with his approach and some do not.
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