In his view of Britain’s mainland American colonies after 1680, Butler reveals a strikingly “modern” character belying the quaintness fixed in history. Multinational, profit-driven, materialistic, politically self-conscious, power-hungry, religiously pluralthe colonies became a “new order of the ages” anticipating the American Revolution.
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About the Author
Jon Butler is William Robertson Coe Professor of American Studies and History, and Professor of Religious Studies, at Yale University.
Table of Contents
What People are Saying About This
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.
From the hand of one of our finest early American historians, this book beautifully conveys the texture of a colonial society thoroughly transformed from the late seventeenth century to the eve of the American Revolution. Bristling with lively vignettes of everyday life, Becoming America is especially illuminating in charting the changes in 'things material' and 'things spiritual'.
Gary B. Mash, author of The Urban Crucible
What a pleasure to read Becoming America! This fresh new synthesis of American society in the near - century before independence is concise and compelling. Butler's discussion of material culture is the very best out there. A wonderfully original, clear-headed book.
Gloria Main, author of Tobacco Colony
Becoming America brilliantly synthesizes an enormous scholarly literature on North America's long eighteenth century. Jon Butler provides fresh and provocative insights into everything from demography to material culture. His book is a tour de force.
Philip Morgan, author of Slave Counterpoint
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Butler argues that there was a remarkable social and economic transformation in the American colonies between 1680 and 1770: (1) they became ethnically and nationally diverse, (2) they developed national and international economies, (3) they displayed religious pluralism, (4) exhibited a modern penchant for power over both humanity and nature that brooked few limitations or questions about their propriety, and in government, (5) they looked ahead to large-scale participatory politics. He details the many ways in which the established Anglican and Congregational orthodoxies were overrun by the new insistence on toleration and the expansion of religious sects. His treatment of the destruction of African religious systems, although brief, is exceptional. This book provides the best short summary of the religious development of the colonies I have encountered.
Excellent readable history of the colonization of the thirteen colonies up to the revolution.
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