Tuesday, April 2, 2013

45: David Lovejoy's Glorious Revolution in America

In The Glorious Revolution in America, David Lovejoy compares the effects of the Glorious Revolution in three different English colonies, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York, to see how colonists reconceptualized their rights as English citizens during a time of political instability in England.

After 1660, England became aggressively involved in colonial affairs, which led settlers from Maryland and Virginia to ask what, exactly, it meant to be a colonist.  The Glorious Revolution was the 1688 overthrow of James II and the House of Stuart by English Parliamentarians, Dutch William III of Orange, and his wife, Mary II, who was the protestant daughter of James II.  James was authoritarian, and his wife was Catholic; the Glorious Revolution reduced the power of the monarch (and the threat of mandatory Catholicism) by creating a constitutional monarchy where the monarch was constrained in all decisions by Parliament.  Per Lovejoy, this political coup was emulated by colonists in America during the revolution of 1689, when they overthrew their arbitrary governments and demanded equality within the empire.

The colonists' attempts to gain equality with Englishmen ultimately failed in all of Lovejoy's three case studies, largely because of the logical impossibility of gaining equality while remaining within an inherently unequal imperial system.  Ultimately, being Englishmen was more important to them than being equal.  However, Lovejoy argues that fighting for equality with England did foster communication and cooperation among the colonies, and thus this book shows that the colonies were becoming a single, interconnected unit much earlier than scholars had thought.  (Previously, scholars thought that the Great Awakening in the 1700s was the first intercolonial experience.)  Perhaps the fight for equality within the Empire did more for colonial unity than any imperial policy could have done.

Although Lovejoy says he's not reading the American Revolution into this study, and although he relies heavily on primary sources, I'm not sure why else he would be so intent on figuring out when the colonies started to form a unified identity that was both predicated on a relationship with England and uniquely American... especially since that unified identity is based on assertions of equality, equal rights and liberty.

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