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From its very beginning in the United States, the Progressive movement has disparaged the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the American Revolution. Take Alan Taylor, for example, who represents the state of the art. Taylor is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor of History at the University of Virginia. Despite the chair he holds, Taylor is not much of a fan of the American Revolution. The New York Times heading over Gordon Wood’s review of Taylor’s new history puts it this way: “How the American Revolution worked against blacks, Indians, and women.” Well, okay, but other than that how was it?

Professor Wood is himself an eminent historian of the founding era. His most recent book is the final volume of the Library of America’s three-volume edition of John Adams’s writings. Professor Wood quietly inserts a note on the occasionally ahistorical quality of Taylor’s critique:

Sometimes Taylor’s emphasis on irony and contradiction slips into anachronism. Because the colonial legislatures denied women, free blacks and propertyless white males the vote, he concludes that “colonial America was a poor place to look for democracy.” But where in the 18th century was there a better place to look for democracy? Despite restrictions on the suffrage, the colonies still possessed the most democratic governments in the world at that time.

See generally Tom West’s Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex and Class and Justice in the Origins of America.Scissors-32x32.png


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