This historical reading of the documents surrounding the creation of the Constitution, the thinking part of the American Revolution, and the eventual structure of the US government is an exhausting, if not fully exhaustive understanding of the variety of complexities of that period. It’s important to note that this book is a history of ideas, and as such, nothing happens, and is mostly about understanding how the thinking of the age turned into the revolutionary spirit, how that spirit vastly differs from person to person and group to group, and how that infused the constitution of the United States with a lot of the same insecurities and debates that brought it to bear.
Because it covers so much ground, it’s more feasible for me to mostly give some stray thoughts.
~~Probably the most interesting part of this book, and as a consequence also the funniest, is the reading of the reading of the colonist’s view on important thinkers. What this looks like is that the colonists were often obsessed with a specific set of Greek and Latin writers. According to Bailyn, collectively the colonists shared neither a breadth or depth of understanding of these thinkers, but that their limited understanding of them showed up everywhere in colonial writings. As you can imagine this often means that one Greek thinker’s views on ________ could be used, applied, misused, missapplied to say whatever one wanted about whatever topic one wanted to have it said. This is hilarious to me because this is the most American (way of thinking) thing I can possibly think of. Wanting something to be applicable (because you like it, read it, agree with it, think it’s important) to your school of thinking about a given topic is the precise thing everyday Americans do about everything they ever talk about. In their minds, Americans are experts on every topic, and don’t mind telling you that.
~~Somehow this book possibly doesn’t mention slavery a single time….well, that is, doesn’t mention actual slavery. It only mentions things that colonial writers THINK is slavery, none of which is. This is a glaring omission in both the colonial writing (which actually does include lots of writing on slavery and it makes it into the constitution) but more a failure on Bailyn’s.
~~Americans have always been completely full of crap about everything. But thing they’re especially good at is believing that there’s some good ole times that we’ve recently slid from. Bailyn is hardly the first writer to point out how much Americans love a good jeremiad.