cover of book


Available as an ebook at:
Barnes & Noble Nook

Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans
by Joyce Oldham Appleby
Harvard University Press, 2000
eISBN: 978-0-674-02025-2 | Cloth: 978-0-674-00236-4 | Paper: 978-0-674-00663-8
Library of Congress Classification E301.A65 2000
Dewey Decimal Classification 973

Born after the Revolution, the first generation of Americans inherited a truly new world--and, with it, the task of working out the terms of Independence. Anyone who started a business, marketed a new invention, ran for office, formed an association, or wrote for publication was helping to fashion the world's first liberal society. These are the people we encounter in Inheriting the Revolution, a vibrant tapestry of the lives, callings, decisions, desires, and reflections of those Americans who turned the new abstractions of democracy, the nation, and free enterprise into contested realities.

Through data gathered on thousands of people, as well as hundreds of memoirs and autobiographies, Joyce Appleby tells myriad intersecting stories of how Americans born between 1776 and 1830 reinvented themselves and their society in politics, economics, reform, religion, and culture. They also had to grapple with the new distinction of free and slave labor, with all its divisive social entailments; the rout of Enlightenment rationality by the warm passions of religious awakening; the explosion of small business opportunities for young people eager to break out of their parents' colonial cocoon. Few in the nation escaped the transforming intrusiveness of these changes. Working these experiences into a vivid picture of American cultural renovation, Appleby crafts an extraordinary--and deeply affecting--account of how the first generation established its own culture, its own nation, its own identity.

The passage of social responsibility from one generation to another is always a fascinating interplay of the inherited and the novel; this book shows how, in the early nineteenth century, the very idea of generations resonated with new meaning in the United States.

Table of Contents:

1. Introduction
2. Responding to a Revolutionary Tradition
3. Enterprise
4. Careers
5. Distinctions
6. Intimate Relations
7. Reform
8. A New National Identity


Reviews of this book:
Joyce Appleby deals with two themes in this book: the historical experience of the generation after the American Revolution and conflicts within American identity. The result is Whitmanesque, both in its complex but coherent vision and in its elegant expression.
--Edward Countryman, New York Times Book Review

Reviews of this book:
[A] fascinating study of how citizens of the newly constituted form of government seized the opportunities their break with the Old World offered them.
--Ralph Hollenbeck, King Features Syndicate

Reviews of this book:
[Appleby] examines in exhaustive (but not exhausting) detail how "the first generation of Americans" reshaped virtually every aspect of American society. Commerce, religion, domestic life, personal behavior. They left nothing untouched, operating under the assumption that their "Revolutionary heritage" was nothing less than "a call to innovation, enterprise, reform and progress"
--Michael D. Schaffer, Philadelphia Enquirer

Reviews of this book:
[Appleby] gives us an extended meditation on what happened to American society during the generation that grew up in the aftermath of the Revolution...Her fine, well-informed intelligence plays across this vast sea of biographical information and recreates the world her subjects inhabited...Everything is made fresh in these pages. The combination of out-of-the-way stories unearthed from the autobiographies and Appleby's own ingenuity and insight puts the familiar in a new light.
--Richard Lyman Bushman, H-Net Book Reviews

Reviews of this book:
In her rich new book...[Appleby] argues that the first generation of Americans...experienced a degree of political and social change unrivalled before or since...This first generation reached a kind of closure about the meaning of democracy that has made it difficult for succeeding generations to articulate a vision of America other than the one they created: a society devoted to individualism and free enterprise...What emerges is a striking tale, on its face one of the most celebratory accounts of American gumption in recent historiography.
--Marc Arkin, New Criterion

Reviews of this book:
Appleby documents, in precise and persuasive detail, the evolution and elaboration of assumptions about what it is to be an American that we now take completely for granted. What we think of as the "natural phenomenon" of individualism, for example, she describes as first appearing in the "prototype for the self-made man," who eventually evolved into "a new character ideal...the man who developed inner resources, acted independently, lived virtuously, and bent his behavior to his personal goals--not the American Adam, but the American homo faber, the builder."
--Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World

Reviews of this book:
An esteemed historian of early America, Appleby has written a social history of 'the first generation of Americans"--not those who fought the American Revolution but, as her title indicates, those who inherited it, who had to figure out just what their parents" bold declarations of liberty looked like on the ground...[This is] a wonderful book, which freshly conveys the energy and creativity unleashed in a generation forging a new national identity.
--Publishers Weekly

Reviews of this book:
Joyce Appleby...has created a collective portrait of the generation of men and women born in the United States between 1776 and 1800, and on the basis of their lives and values ventures an answer to Crevecoeur's query that is intriguing, sophisticated and anything but exceptionalist. Anyone curious about how Americans came to understand themselves as a people would do well to read this book. Appleby maintains that Americans first defined their national identity by infusing meaning into the Revolution to which they were heirs...Inheriting the Revolution must also command the respect of all scholars who seek to understand the origins of American culture and identity.
--Fred Anderson, Los Angeles Times Book Review

Reviews of this book:
A treasure-trove of information about the early republic, recreating an era that mixed cultural and emotional chaos with unprecedented opportunities at all levels of society...Although Appleby's purpose is to examine social contexts rather than anomalous individuals, the materials she uses vividly evoke the lived experiences of real people. Drawn from hundreds of diaries, letters, memoirs, and records of the obscure as well as the famous, her panorama.Appleby presents the explosion of possibilities at the beginning of the 19th century in sparkling, jargon-free prose and vibrant detail, producing an indispensable guide to a fascinating, turbulent time.
--Kirkus Reviews

Reviews of this book:
Inheriting the Revolution is a welcome addition to the now-rich literature on the early American republic. Informed by Joyce Appleby's deep knowledge of the period's politics and political ideology, it portrays a society in a fresh stage of development, and a people defining themselves in the context not just of a new nationhood, but of the material and geographical circumstances the American Revolution created. No one concerned with the early United States or the longer trajectory of US development should ignore this book.
--Christopher Clark, History

Joyce Appleby perfectly captures the world created by the sons and daughters of the American Revolution. Enterprising and energetic, mad about money and seemingly constantly on the move, deeply pious and convinced of their own capacity to shape their own destinies, they took their Revolutionary legacy and made it into the world that we still inhabit, if with a little less optimism and a better sense of its contradictions.
--Jan Lewis, author of The Pursuit of Happiness: Family and Values in Jefferson's Virginia

Pungent, vivid narrative, magisterial sweep, and imaginative explorations fuel Appleby's compelling account of the early republic's improbable, extraordinary birth--a masterful achievement by one of our most distinguished historians.
--Jon Butler, author of Becoming America: The Revolution Before 1776 (Harvard)

Joyce Appleby's influential argument for the democratic transformation of post-revolutionary America takes on new power and persuasiveness in her engaging biographical portrait of The First Generation. Artfully weaving personal narratives and sophisticated analyses into an evocative account of a new people's coming of age, Appleby sets the agenda for a new generation of scholarship. While never losing sight of the conflicts and contradictions that jeopardized the nation's future prospects, she brilliantly captures the dynamism and energy of her extraordinary cohort.
--Peter S. Onuf, author of Jeffersonian Legacies

Joyce Appleby's dazzling narrative takes us into the lives of the Americans who inherited the Revolution. With Appleby we glimpse the men and women--black and white, immigrant and old stock--who invented the distinctive social and cultural forms that we ourselves have inherited. We see ourselves anew in the originating impulses of participatory politics, in the rise of capitalist culture, in the shifting relation between the personal and the civic, and in the myriad ways in which we struggle to fulfill the promise of America. Reading Inheriting the Revolution we reckon with the America we are still making.
--Mary Kelley, author of Private Woman, Public Stage: Literary Domesticity in Nineteenth Century America

A highly original book, written very engagingly, by an author with a gift for apt phrases. The autobiographies include many fascinating accounts of little known people. Appleby's book will take an important place in the ongoing debates about its period. Inheriting the Revolution reflects the enthusiasm, maturity, common sense, and wisdom of its author.
--Daniel W. Howe, author of Making the American Self: Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (Harvard)
Nearby on shelf for United States / Revolution to the Civil War, 1775/1783-1861 / General: