The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America


In this audacious recasting of the American Revolution, distinguished historian Gary Nash offers a profound new way of thinking about the struggle to create this country, introducing readers to a coalition of patriots from all classes and races of American society. From millennialist preachers to enslaved Africans, disgruntled women to aggrieved Indians, the people so vividly portrayed in this book did not all agree or succeed, but during the exhilarating and messy years of this country's birth, they laid down ...
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The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America

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In this audacious recasting of the American Revolution, distinguished historian Gary Nash offers a profound new way of thinking about the struggle to create this country, introducing readers to a coalition of patriots from all classes and races of American society. From millennialist preachers to enslaved Africans, disgruntled women to aggrieved Indians, the people so vividly portrayed in this book did not all agree or succeed, but during the exhilarating and messy years of this country's birth, they laid down ideas that have become part of our inheritance and ideals toward which we still strive today.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The War for Independence was the longest and most disruptive conflict in American history, yet many popular histories speak of it as a struggle in which Americans spoke with one voice. In this radical reexamination of the Revolutionary decades, historian Gary B. Nash emphasizes the diversity of identities and opinions that forged the new Republic. Instead of presenting only the Founding Fathers, he describes a contentious crew of would-be republicans: "millennialist preachers, enslaved Africans, frontier mystics, dockside tars, privates in Washington's army, mixed-blood Indians, ascetic Quakers, disgruntled women." A breakthrough history in the tradition of Howard Zinn and Ron Chernow.
From the Publisher
"Tightly though densely written, this expertly researched tome shakes the "stainless steel" history of the American Revolution to its core." —Publishers Weekly 

"You will never think about the Revolution in the same way." —Alfred F. Young, author of Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier

"What Nash does in The Unknown American Revolution is dislodge the founding fathers to give the dynamism of urban craftsmen, slaves, ‘dockside tars,' and ‘club-wielding farmers' a more prominent place in the history of the movement."  —The Boston Globe

Publishers Weekly
The history of the American Revolution that most of us have absorbed is but "a fable," writes UCLA historian Nash. In this insightful, challenging "antidote to historical amnesia," Nash (Race and Revolution) deftly illustrates that while the Revolution has been implanted in our collective memory as the idealized "Glorious Cause," in reality it was more a chaotic and bloody civil war, replete with fragile alliances, a multitude of fronts and clashing cultures. He especially succeeds in detailing the crucial role and often overlooked plight of Native Americans, adding the obscure names of men such as Cornplanter, Dragging Canoe and Mohawk chief Joseph Brant, who allied the Iroquois nation with the British, to the pantheon of the Revolution's players. By 1789 Washington was forced to commit a third of his army to destroying the Iroquois, explicitly ordering that their villages "not be merely overrun but destroyed." Of course, Native Americans who remained neutral or fought alongside the Americans fared no better later at the hands of settlers. Tightly though densely written, this expertly researched tome shakes the "stainless steel" history of the American Revolution to its core. (June 27) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Nash (history, UCLA; Red, White and Black) examines the American Revolution from the perspective of the ordinary people involved, e.g., women, laborers, farmers, Native Americans, and slaves, making the case that those who actually fought and won the Revolution deserve the credit for it. As Nash reveals, the clean, linear history of the Revolution taught in school simply is not true; it was actually a very messy, chaotic, and fragmented affair. The narrative focuses on the latter half of the 18th century, examining the revolutionary activities of common people, from the New Jersey farmers asserting their property rights in the 1740s to the plight of African Americans after the war. He debunks many myths of the Revolution, such as that of the citizen soldier (most soldiers were in fact poor and landless immigrants) and unearths many lesser-known facts (e.g., in 1776, New Jersey's constitution implicitly gave women the right to vote-until the legislature narrowed suffrage in 1807). Well written, thought-provoking, and controversial, this complement to Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the founding of the country. Recommended for all libraries.-Robert Flatley, Kutztown Univ. Lib., PA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The American Revolution, writes Nash (History/UCLA; History on Trial, 1997), was messy, deadly, and radical through and through-far from the sanitized, mythical version of the textbooks. Call this an alternate textbook, one that pauses to mention Thomas Peters, who took freed slaves to Canada and helped found Sierra Leone, and Dragging Canoe, a Cherokee who took the occasion of the Revolution to press for his own people's rights. There were many revolutions in play, says Nash, some with long antecedents, not least in the Great Awakening that, having ignited civil war in England a century earlier, brought religious fervor to the class struggle of smallholder vs. gentry up and down the seaboard. (Matters were not helped when the Crown passed the Quebec Act, which guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics.) The struggle also had a strong economic component, as a British general, Thomas Gage, observed; once the "people of property" whipped up the lower class to protest the Stamp Act, they were amazed to find the crowd turning against them and "began to be filled with terrors for their own safety." Nash reminds us that the Revolution was a civil war, fought against other Americans as much as English troops, and that the burden of the fight was borne by "those with pinched lives, often fresh from Ireland or Germany, recently released from jail or downright desperate"; the valiant minutemen, it seems, preferred to stay home and duck paying taxes, prompting one French volunteer to observe that there was more enthusiasm for the cause of American freedom in the average Paris cafe than in the colonies. Tantalizingly, Nash evokes a secret history by Continental Congress secretary Charles Thomson, whoamassed a thousand pages of notes, buried them, then dug them up and burned the lot. "I could not tell the truth without giving great offense," he later remarked. "Let the world admire our patriots and heroes."This complex, subtle work leaves room for admiration, but also for less exalted thoughts. A fine corrective to the usual hagiographies.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143037200
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/30/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 576,486
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary B. Nash is professor of history at UCLA and director of the National Center for History in the Schools. He is the former president of the Organization of American Historians, co-chair of the National History Standards Project, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations   XIII
Introduction   XV

1. Roots of Radicalism

Jailbreaks at Newark   2
Christ's Poor   8
Little Carpenter's Dilemma   12
"The Mobbish Turn" in Boston   18
"Cum Multis Aegis" in Philadelphia   25
"Fondness for Freedom"   32
Heralds of Abolition   39

2. Years of Insurgence, 1761-1766

The Crowd Finds Its Own Mind   45
Restive Slaves   59
Stricken Conscience   62
The Great Indian Awakening   66
Insurgent Farmers   72

3. Building Momentum, 1766-1774

"The Rising Spirit of the People"   91
Backcountry Crises   103
"The Natural Rights of Africans"   114
Indian Hating on the Middle Ground   128
Out of the Shadows   133
Radical Religion   146

4. Reaching the Climax, 1776-1778

Abolitionism Under War Clouds   151
"Liberty to Slaves"   157
Logan's Lament   166
Plowmen and Leather Aprons   178
Breaking the Logjam   189
The Genie Unbottled   199

5. The Dual Revolution, 1776-1780

Unalienable Rights for Whom?   210
The Myth of the Minuteman   216
Fighting to Be Free   223
Rioting to Eat   232
Radical Loyalism   238
Choosing Sides   247

6. Writing on the Clean Slate, 1776-1780

First Attempts   266
A Militiaman's Constitution   268
The Frightened Response   277
Vermont and Maryland   280
E Pluribus Unum?   288
Betrayal in Massachussetts   290

7. Radicalism at Floodtide, 1778-1781

Blood in the Streets   307
New Choices for African Americans   320
Defending Virginia   339
Native American Agonies   345
Radical Mutineers   357

8. Taming the Revolution, 1780-1785

"Band of Brotherhood"   369
Peace Without Peace   376
Southern Fissures   387
Northern Struggles for Equity   395
Leaving America   402
Finding Freedom   407
Women of the Republic   417

Epilogue: Sparks from the Altar of '76

The Dream Deferred   426
The Last Best Chance   429
The Indispensible Enemy   435
The Veterans' Cheat   441
Small-Producer Persistence   443
Passing the Torch   450

Acknowledgements   457
Notes   459
Index   495

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2005

    Inside scoop for new history nerd

    For someone who doesn't know very much about the American Revolution in the first place, this book was a bit overpowering, but gave me an inside scoop and deeper look at what went on. This is a sort of 'Behind the scenes' showing of what really occurred during the American Revolution. Nash talks not only about the battles that were fought but also touches on issues including women's roles, surprising slave owners, and feuds between the politicians. One of the topics that I most enjoyed was ¿Unalienable Rights For Whom?¿ This was of interest to me because it wasn¿t all about a happy go-lucky view of how the real American¿s felt about what was going on in their country. Another topic that was of great interest to me was the vast amount of information that Nash covered on the women¿s roles during the revolution he illustrated their great importance during this time period. At times I felt overwhelmed by the length and amount of information I was given. Being a novice at learning all about the revolution, I believe there were certain topics that I had never been taught before. The gamut of subjects that Nash included in the book, help to give an in-depth perspective. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to see the behind closed doors look at the revolution and learn about the little known facts.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 22, 2008


    The first 200 pages were great. The last 200 pages felt like a thesis paper.<BR/> There's no doubt the amount of work and research that went into this but I felt at times that there was a reason it is called the 'Unknown American...'<BR/> Probably a better book to read through certain chapters and keep on the shelf for fact checking. <BR/> But it can be interesting if you stick through it, and again, the topic is a nice change from the 4 million books on Hamilton.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2005

    Revisionist in the Best Sense

    Combining his own research with a broad survey of current research, Nash presents a history of the American Revolution that combines familiar landmarks (the Declaration of Independence, the surrender at Yorktown) with lesser-known, but important stories of the era as experienced by slaves, the working classes, women from all levels of society, the foot soldier, the loyalists, and the Native American. Many of the details in this book could be found in more specific texts, but Nash deftly weaves all the stories together into a single narrative. This is not some ideological effort to taint the achievements of the founding fathers or some exercise in historical mud-slinging. Though many of the details may undermine certain well-cherished legends, Nash introduces them to show that people from all different classes and cultures influenced the Revolution, and the modern shape of the nation owes something to all of their hopes, fears, and efforts. Many regrettable things happened during the tempestuous years, but it is impossible to read this an not be amazed at Americans' seemingly innate thirst for freedom and the sacrifices that people on all sides of the conflict were willing to make in order to secure a future they believed in. NB: I did find this book assumes a high degree of familiarity with the Revolution and the events of that era. I do not feel it is a book for beginners.

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    Posted April 23, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2010

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