Founding-Era Reading List: Leftist History, Part 2

(Part One is here. )

From a modest but notable spike in page views for my first entry in this category, I get the feeling these lists might have some actual value. I’ll interlink them as I go. (The “Tory History” list, coming soon, will be briefer and might be interesting too. Others may follow after that.)

As a reminder: The biggest category at play here is “works of serious academic scholarship — by trained historians, that is — that have had an impact on the stories I tell in Declaration and The Whiskey Rebellion.” In those books, I try to base genuinely page-turning, character-driven narrative on the conflicts exposed by genuine critical  history. I don’t see many other people really going for that, so my lists are uncomprehensive, personal to my work.

Some works I cite are good reading and some just aren’t. I’ll try to annotate that as I go, but I don’t know the tolerance levels of any particular reader in this area, so wouldn’t want to try to be definitive on “readability.” Many books people find highly readable (those by a certain late Swedish crime novelist, e.g.) I find unreadably banal and inept, so who knows.

I invite comment on these lists, which might even lead to dialogue among teachers, students, readers, etc.? — And if so inclined, push elsewhere to those who might be interested.

As to this particular post: It continues the sub-category, “left history”– real left history, Marxist by extraction, not the lefty-liberalism defined as “far left” by right-wing talkshow hosts. …

Dirk Hoerder. Crowd Action in Revolutionary Massachusetts, 1765-1780 is the book of Hoerder’s I know and have relied on. (Sounds like something the Tea Party ought to read?) Not easy going, but the introduction is at once more incisive and more comprehensive than anything else I’ve read when it comes to varieties of crowd action (he discusses the benchmark work of Georges Rudé on that [UPDATE: No, not “Georges,” you idiot: Rudé was a Scandanavian-born Brit); 18th C. terminology like “democrat” and “the people”; the uses of violence in protest; and the social structures of Massachusetts. Chapter One takes the various purposes and styles of  crowd action farther. He’s clearly influenced by E.P. Thompson  and brings Thompson’s discussions to American society. Next chapters get into how internal class conflict was part of crowd action in the first Stamp Act riots.  This is a powerful anti-consensus reading. And his stuff on Stamp Act protests is the best I’ve read. Hoerder gets that Samuel Adams, anything but a working-class democrat, was a fighter for the old corporate unity of Boston and Mass. and tried to control and channel working-class protest in order to achieve those ends. And that he sometimes failed to control it.

Ernst & Egnal. Their article in William and Mary Quarterly, Se. 3, 29, 1972, takes a hardnosed economic approach to the role of upper and upper-middle-class interests, with independence a means of asserting control over the American economy — so when the founders pushed back against democracy in the 1780s, there’s no contradiction, just further shoring up of elite control.  The interesting story (to me) occurs when elites and “lower sort” get together on the basis of a misunderstanding.  Ernst rejects Beard’s idea that the Constitution was a “counterrevolutionary” document: to believe that, you’d have to believe the Declaration was socially radical. And in Young’s The American Revolution, Ernst gives a good critique of the progressive belief that the Whig liberty of ideology masked elite self interest while the lower orders made the revolution democratic.  Those progs still wanted the revolution to be democratic, and they wanted the lower orders to be key to it, even while they rejected any legit principle on the part of elites.  Ernst rejects all that, from a Marxist pov. Tough stuff.

Elisha P. Douglass.  Rebels and Democrats, 1955: an early pushback against the Cold War consensus in founding history.  This is a very important book, ahead of its time and fun to read.  He starts with the English Levellers, knows Samuel Adams was no democrat, and in ’55 rightly saw Paine as the real democrat. I should have done more with this book for background to Declaration, got into other stuff and lost track. Highly recommended for interested general readers.

There’s more, but next I’ll look at some other kinds of history …

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