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Becoming America: The Revolution before 1776 / Edition 1

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Multinational, profit-driven, materialistic, power-hungry, religiously plural: America today -- and three hundred years ago. Jon Butler's panoramic view of the mainland American colonies after 1680 transforms our customary picture of prerevolutionary America; it reveals a strikingly "modern" character that belies the eighteenth-century quaintness fixed in history. Stressing the middle and late decades (the hitherto "dark ages") of the American colonial experience, Butler shows us vast revolutionary changes in a society that, for ninety years before 1776, was already becoming America.
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Editorial Reviews

New Republic - Gordon S. Wood
We must congratulate Butler for [bringing] under control (a] profusion of scholarship and [making] sense of it in fewer than 250 pages. His book is a tour de force ... Compelling and readable.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
A terrific book, filled with human interest and the kind of detail that makes abstractions meaningful. A commendable weaving together of themes and materials from political history, social history, and cultural history. Butler offers us a firm foundation for further exploration.
Jill Lepore
An engrossing, important book. It promises to provoke and inspire. Jon Butler's Becoming America is an ambitious examination of Britain's mainland North American colonies between 1680 and 1770. The scope of the book is really quite broad; it covers nearly a century of development across thirteen widely varying colonies, and considers six formidably large aspects of early American life: migration and settlement, politics, economics, religion, the material world, and the origins of the Revolution. Butler's book revolves around, and advances, a coherent, critical thesis: that 'the vast social, economic, political, and cultural changes' of this period 'created a distinctively 'American' society.' The surprise of the book is that this society was modern; indeed, as Butler claims, it was the world's 'first modern society.' The world Butler portrays in his often vivid, and always highly readable prose is an America of fantastic diversity, an America of many languages, different customs, and dissenting practices of piety. Butler's Becoming America is a world of bustling politics and economic revolutions.
Christine Heyrman
In yet another provocative challenge to the conventional wisdom, Jon Butler argues for the 'modernity' of eighteenth-century America. He provides a lively and readable account of how transatlantic commerce, participatory politics, religious pluralism, and ethnic and racial diversity put colonials on the path to 'becoming Americans' during the decades before the Revolution.
American Studies International - Joel Hodson
In Becoming America, Jon Butler examines the less examined period of American colonial history from 1680 to 1770 to argue that distinctive traits of modern America were already in place…The book makes a strong case for the early modernity of American society, helps to delineate the evolution of American identity, and serves as a good overview for the period.
William and Mary Quarterly - Ruth H. Bloch
Writing in a deceptively simple style, Butler builds creatively on complex historiographical debates and masterfully synthesizes vast amounts of specialized research, both by himself and by others…Indeed, one of the book's great virtues is its accessibility, and both its exclusively American focus and its stress on concrete social processes contribute to the clarity and forcefulness of the account. By all reasonable measures, this is a highly successful synthesis that manages to be at once enjoyable and provocative.
The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography - John Ritchie Garrison
Butler divides his approach to the period into well- studied categories before considering the implications for the Revolutionary era. His chapters on "Peoples," "Economy" and "Politics" provide a helpful synthesis of recent historiography without the tedious name dropping that characterizes so much historiographical literature…Butler will prompt us all to think more clearly about the structural relationships that evolved during these years.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Historians have often argued that the colonies became "Europeanized" in the century before the American Revolution, but in his latest book, Yale historian Butler (Awash in a Sea of Faith) contends that we need to pay close attention to this slice of early American history. The decades in between the Puritan-dominated 17th century and the market-revolutionizing early 19th century were a formative period, he suggests, during which a distinctly "American" society--and, as Butler would have it, the first "modern" society--developed. It was a culture "simultaneously aggressive and willful, materialistic as well as idealistic, driven toward authority and mastery." Butler examines the Americanizing process in the realms of politics, economics, religion and material culture. In the first chapter, "Peoples," Butler reminds readers that late colonial society was polyglot and diverse--including Germans, French, Scots, Ibo, Ashanti, Yoruba, Catawba and Leni-Lenape. The rest of the book is marked by Butler's characteristic innovation. Regarding politics, for instance, he suggests that Americans were no longer harmoniously self-governing through the town meeting; it was the colony itself, rather than the local microcosm, that was the center of political life. Likewise, distinctly American decorative arts began to develop during these years: after 1680, the relatively simple public buildings of the 17th century were "replaced by far larger, more elaborate facilities." Butler's original analysis is important reading on 18th-century America; he shows that the colonies were developing distinct ways of spending, building, praying, decorating and politicking even then--a cultural revolution that anticipated the political revolution that was to follow. B&w photos not seen by PW. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
This interesting, informative book will provide a great deal of food for thought for serious students of American history. The well-organized text has the tone of a series of well-planned lectures and will motivate some readers to do further research. Though scholarly in nature, the text is conversational in tone and the intended audience will find it to be very readable. Although there are no maps or charts and few illustrations, print size and page arrangement are not intimidating. This book will be an excellent resource for fledgling history majors. Other students will find it to be a valuable source of information when writing papers. The nine-page index and the 50 pages of notes are assets. Each of the first five chapters is generally broken down into three geographic areas: New England, the middle colonies, and the South. The organization of each is easily discernible and the information is presented in a manner that lends itself to outlining and/or note taking. The first two chapters, "People" and "Economy," are presented geographically. Politics is discussed chronologically. "Things Material" (e.g., furniture, buildings) are examined by topic. "Things Spiritual" (religion) are explored by individual sects and their geographic location. The final chapter, "1776," presents an excellent summation of the reasons for the revolution and the colonies becoming what the author refers to as "the first modern society." Not for the general YA readership, but there is a definite audience among them. Category: History & Geography. KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students, and adults. 2000, Harvard Univ. Press, 324p. illus. notes. index., $16.00. Ages 17 to adult.Reviewer: Prof. John E. Boyd; Jenkintown, PA SOURCE: KLIATT, March 2002 (Vol. 36, No. 2)
Kirkus Reviews
In a thoughtful, erudite survey of colonial history, Butler (Awash in a Sea of Faith, not reviewed) traces the formation of many of America's modern social characteristics in the crucible of pre-Revolutionary society. Americans today think of the colonial period, if at all, as a time remote from modern America, in which society was unimaginably different from ours. Butler argues persuasively that America during the late colonial period (1680-1776) rapidly developed a variegated culture that displayed distinctive traits of modern America, among them vigorous religious pluralism, bewildering ethnic diversity, tremendous inequalities of wealth, and a materialistic society with pervasively commercial values. Butler reviews the growth in population during this last half of the colonial period: while most settlers in 1680 were of English origin, by 1776 the British colonies were populated by a polyglot population of peoples from the British Isles, continental Europe, and Africa, as well as the indigenous Indian population. At the same time the population diversified and the economy changed in complex ways: the period saw such diverse developments as rapid growth in artisan and craft skills, the development of a large middle class, the growth of professional classes, widespread urbanization with attendant poverty, and the institutionalization of African slavery, formerly a sporadic practice not easily distinguishable from indentured servitude. The colonials developed democratic political institutions of surprising vigor, especially provincial and local assemblies, while royal governors were mostly irrelevant and sometimes incompetent. Frontier wars with France reinforced cultural andpoliticaldifferences with Britain while forging a sense of shared American nationhood that resulted in the Revolutionary movement. A sweeping, well-researched analysis of the transformative changes wrought by immigration, war, and cultural change in colonial America.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674006676
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 634,624
  • Product dimensions: 6.16 (w) x 9.15 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Jon Butler is the William Robertson Coe Professor of American Studies and History, and Professor of Religious Studies, at Yale University.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 Peoples 8
2 Economy 50
3 Politics 89
4 Things Material 131
5 Things Spiritual 185
6 1776 225
Notes 251
Acknowledgments 312
Index 315
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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    Becoming America

    Excellent readable history of the colonization of the thirteen colonies up to the revolution.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2003

    Readable and very well done

    In this gracefully written book, Jon Butler in Becoming America ¿traces the enormous social, economic, political, and cultural changes that created a distinctively modern and, ultimately, ¿American¿ society in Britain¿s mainland colonies between 1680 and 1770.¿ (2) With straightforward prose refreshingly free of jargon, Butler shows that the American colonies developed into surprisingly modern entities by the eve of the Revolution. In separate chapters, he details five major characteristics of American modernity in support of this claim: ethnic and national diversity; complex economies; ¿large-scale participatory politics¿; religious pluralism; and ¿the modern penchant for power, control, and authority¿ over both their environment and other human beings. This change from primitive 17th century outposts of Britain¿s colonial empire to ¿complex and variegated¿ (3) colonies by the mid 18th century is what Butler terms the ¿Revolution before 1776.¿ By 1770, America was anything but a homogeneous society in terms of its population, particularly when compared to Europe. Butler notes that Indians and Europeans ¿lived side by side¿ (15) in most rural areas of the colonies. Religious, economic and cultural strife forced many in Europe to immigrate to the British mainland colonies, while after 1680 the American colonies ¿became a haven for non-English Europeans.¿ (20) Butler points to a variety of newcomers¿Jews, Scots-Irish, French Huguenots, Germans and Swiss¿who settled all over America to make the New World a mix of ethnic groups, which ¿predicted the growing importance of ethnicity in America¿ which continues to the present. (25) Butler also details the ¿horrific suffering¿ of Africans, forced to America by the burgeoning slave trade at the end of the 17th century. Writing sensitively about the plight of these enslaved blacks, he also notes that their influx ¿recast the seventeenth-century colonies and [became] the American future.¿ (36) Not only was America¿s population diverse, so was its religious composition. ¿Colonial American religion,¿ Butler concludes, was ¿varied and rich between 1680s and the American Revolution.¿ (185) This ¿religious pluralism and vitality,¿ far more extensive than was characteristic of Europe, has been ¿identified as the very soul of modern American culture¿ he concludes. Butler also points to ministers like George Whitefield as being modern, in their celebrity status, individualism and ¿nondenominational, media-conscious[ness].¿ Butler points to the diverse and complex economies of the British colonies in America as evidence of their modernity, though he is careful not to ignore the growing poverty and inequality in New World.. Colonists ¿took command¿ of their commercial life and shaped it into a ¿notably autonomous economy,¿ (51) especially in their agricultural pursuits, in which farming became more commercial after the 1680s. This new emphasis on the market was accompanied by diversification. Similarly, Butler shows that native Americans too ¿became enmeshed in complex and powerful economic relationships¿ with Europeans in the colonies. (67) Merchants won ¿wealth and status¿ through expansion, extension and specialization,¿ (69) all of which demonstrate for Butler that colonial economics were modern and complex. Colonial politics, Butler concludes, were ¿so complex that they often baffled observers.¿ (90) Provincial politics, while not democratic, were popular and included that formation of ¿political groups that sometimes assumed almost modern, partylike appearances,¿ (96) such as the Quaker party which emerged in Pennsylvania in the 1740s. America after 1680 became less deferential and became a ¿more open, ultimately democratic nation.¿ (99) Butler also points to the maturation of provincial assemblies after 1680 and the expansion of their power to demonstrate an increasing modernity of colonial politics. In Becoming America, Jon Butler has convincingly depicted Britis

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