The Radicalism of the American Revolution

by Gordon S. Wood
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 274

The Radicalism of the American Revolution, by Gordon S. Wood, is a nonfiction book published in 1993. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for History.

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The book's central thesis is that the American colonists—who initiated the American Revolution against the British Crown—were "radicals," similar to Marxist revolutionaries like Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. However, Wood also details the political philosophy of central figures from the American Revolution, such as George Washington.

Another theme or sub-topic found in the book is the virtues of republicanism, which Wood describes as the inspiration for the revolutionaries and the signees of the Declaration of Independence. Wood posits that ideas of the Enlightenment—in a philosophical context as well as in practical applications (e.g., scientific and artistic innovation, legal theories)—are based on republican principles.

In the second section of the book, Wood suggests that prominent revolutionaries, such as George Washington, believed in an idealized version of a republic. Wood believes that Washington and Thomas Jefferson envisioned the United States of America to be structured according to republican principles.

Since the book's central thesis is that the American revolutionaries were as "radical" as those from the 19th- and 20th-century leftist movements, the author references the political ideologies of various communist political figures. Wood cites revolutionaries such as Lenin, Mao Zedong, and Che Guevara as comparisons for the "radicalism" of the American colonists.

To conclude the book's thesis, Wood argues that the American revolutionaries should be seen in the same context as other "radicals." In particular, although not stated explicitly, Wood appeals to the academic community, especially history scholars, to adopt this new perspective on the American Revolution.

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