Friday, April 4, 2008

The Glorious Revolution in America

On tap today:
David S. Lovejoy's The Glorious Revolution in America (1972).
Behind the settlement of Massachusetts was a holy commitment, and the charter was its sign. As Virginians and New Yorkers and the people of Maryland sought guarantees upon which they could build satisfactory lives and an equitable political existence, Massachusetts looked to its charter and covenant as the joint foundation of its being which made possible a holy commonwealth. Unlike other colonies, Massachusetts was founded by a chosen people whose destiny was manifest, if not to everyone, at least to those who settled there.

At the heart of this book lies an argument over the meaning of empire in the seventeenth century. Lovejoy argues at length that Englishmen in England believed that they enjoyed rights that colonists did not, while Englishmen in America assumed that they lost no rights by transplanting themselves to the colonies. The conflicts over this disagreement were central to the colonists’ reactions to the Navigation Acts and the Glorious Revolution. Even though the colonists were unable to convince the King and Parliament of the legitimacy of their claim to these fundamental rights, they continued to believe that they were equal to any Englishman.

Lovejoy is very particular about showing that each colony’s reactions to political changes in England grew out of that colony’s particular political, economic, and social situation. Maryland had problems that not exist in Massachusetts and no one had problems like New York’s. This means that the Glorious Revolution in America was actually many specific, local revolutions, even if there were regional trends.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the 17th century. I have never before been able to grasp the timeline of this period, but Lovejoy writes clearly, explains thoroughly (if at some length . . .), and maintains at least three simultaneous timelines that complement one another well. At times, I get the feeling that Lovejoy is painting with a fairly broad brush, but I am not expert enough to quarrel with his claims. If this work lacks in nuanced understanding of particular situations, it seems to make up for it in scope. If you’ve never been able to keep your Navigation Acts straight or you can’t explain the royal politics behind the Dominion of New England, this is the book for you.

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