No ‘King of Kings’

Norman Rockwell, “Freedom of Worship”

Can you pray a country into existence? This idea refueled warsick colonists as they made bloody progress through the American Revolution. Certainly, young William Palfrey thought so. On New Year’s Eve, 1775, Palfrey and his fellow patriots huddled in Christ Church, across from the Cambridge Common, where George Washington had taken command of the ragged Continental Army just a few months earlier. A Boston merchant who toured London, Washington’s 34-year-old aide-de-camp found himself pressed into a number of new roles: soldier, paymaster, and, now, priest. Like his general, Palfrey worried about the daily tasks of war. Soldiers’ pay was mounting, the militias needed cohesion, and monthly expenses tallied $275,000. Palfrey and his friends had endured British occupation since spring, then a hungry winter. They were drained. Where could Palfrey and other worshippers pray to Providence, safely, in their city under siege?

Many houses of worship were hollowed out by war. Boston’s Anglican clergy leaned loyalist, plunging into bankruptcy or pursuing Halifax exile. Acting at Martha Washington’s request, Palfrey opened Christ Church for a single night of worship. The church, like the community it held, was stamped by conflict. Colonists had fired wildly at it, protesting a British soldier’s funeral. Bullet holes blistered the foyer. Inside, few of the king’s gifts survived. The lead organ pipes that boomed out Handel’s hymns had been melted down for ammunition at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Rainbow-and-gilt vellum Books of Common Prayer, sent as part of King George II’s or George III’s startup kit with altar cloth to new colonial outposts, already looked battered and rare in 1776. Worse, those pages—well-rubbed from use and rippled with water stain—held what Palfrey and his friends now read as the wrong kind of words to use in asking God for aid. Continue reading

IOTAR50: Intellectual History from the Undistinguished

8d2eb-6a00d8341d17e553ef01b7c8eeecd7970b-600wiWe continue “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution at 50,” our joint roundtable with The Junto blog. Today’s post is by Jonathan Wilson, an adjunct faculty member at the University of Scranton and Marywood University. He studies ways that intellectuals—elite and otherwise—articulated American national identity in eastern cities during the early nineteenth century..

Upon first reading The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, I found it liberating. (That places me alongside Michael and Sara more than Ken this week.) True, Bernard Bailyn’s book was yet another attempt to credit elite white men for an idealistic national founding. From my perspective at the time, however, it modeled a way to study the ideas of relatively ordinary people. Bailyn depicted revolutionary thoughts as the work of communities, not individuals. He showed me that the life of the mind can encompass the inarticulate, the half-said, even the irrational, in ways that historians can analyze. This was powerful.

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IOTAR50: Paper Politics

French Pamphlets, Newberry Library

All praise to the humble pamphlet, upon which *may* rest the ideological origins of the American Revolution. Frequently buried by history as loose “Bundells of Pamphlets in quarto,” it’s a genre that almost shouldn’t be. Printed on flimsy paper and easily battered by salt spray or avid readers, the popular pamphlet became a clutch genre for British and American revolutionaries to send ideas around the Atlantic World. These publications, along with newsbooks, hardened into the “paper bullets,” that, according to scholar Joad Raymond, flew on and off the page in early modern England’s press.

Even as the genre evolved into weekly newspapers, he writes, “readers recognized the rules of the form.” Pamphlet culture, a dynamic arena for anonymous critics to take an eloquent swipe at matters of church and state, quickly blossomed abroad. Unbound and unfettered, pamphlets seeded colonists with a new political consciousness. Whether 10 pages or 50, these slim booklets amplified republican politics and revolutionary prose. Pamphlets, as Robert G. Parkinson observes, became the “lifeblood” of the American Revolution. “They instructed the colonial public that political and personal liberty were in jeopardy because British imperial reformers sought to strip them of their natural rights, especially the right to consent to a government that could hear and understand them,” he writes. Today, let’s look at that instructional aspect of pamphlet culture, and how Bernard Bailyn’s interpretation of revolutionary tracts has reshaped what we do in public history. Continue reading

Roundtable: The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution at 50

This week The Junto is co-sponsoring a weeklong roundtable on Bernard Bailyn’s The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution with the Society for U.S. Intellectual History (S-USIH) blog. Each of the five posts will appear on both blogs concurrently. The goal of this first-ever joint roundtable is to generate as much discussion as possible from its readers. By cross-posting the roundtable, we hope to maximize its potential audience, and we will be copying substantive comments made on one blog to the other to foster as much discussion as possible and to share the viewpoints and ideas of early Americanists with American intellectual historians and vice versa. For readers unfamiliar with the book (or looking for a refresher), please see Episode 12 of The JuntoCast.

Today’s post is from Michael D. Hattem, who earned his Ph.D. from Yale in 2017.  He is a Contributing Editor at The Junto, and a 2017-18 Schwartz Postdoctoral Fellow at The New-York Historical Society and The New School.

Throughout the winter of 2016-17, I helped organize “Ideological Origins at 50,” a conference jointly sponsored by the USC-EMSI and Yale’s CHESS to honor the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Bernard Bailyn’s seminal work, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. The conference papers, presentations, and discussion were quite lively, as was Bailyn himself who delivered a 75-minute talk on the opening evening. Since then, other tributes to the book and its long-term influence and impact have appeared online. However, all of these have had one thing in common; they have been almost solely the product of senior historians who perceptively discussed the book’s long-term impact and the debates that surrounded it, both around its publication and in the immediate decades afterward. This Junto roundtable, “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution at 50″ (#IOTAR50), aims to offer junior scholars a chance to reflect on this book’s impact on them and, by extension, its continuing significance and influence on the newest generation of early American historians. After all, perhaps the most impressive achievement of Ideological Origins is that fifty years after its publication it is still being read, assigned, and reckoned with by a new generation of scholars. Therefore, rather than rehashing what the book meant when it was published or what it has meant to historians living with it for decades, this roundtable is dedicated to exploring what the book means now. Continue reading