Throughout his long career, Washington earned the adulation not merely of ordinary people but of the other luminaries whom we now hail as 'founding fathers.'
What was the American Revolution? The people who joined to carry it out had different views of what they had done.
The American Revolution was carried out in the name of the people, and it was supposedly 'We, the people,' who created the government that Americans still live under.
Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the Ark of the Covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment.
In 1595, by order of the Privy Council, the English armed services abandoned the longbow and fought with muskets for the next two centuries and more. Nobody is sure why.
The musket, always a muzzleloader, took minutes to reload; an archer could aim and fire up to a dozen arrows in a minute. Muskets required continual cleaning and repair; bows were quickly made and easily maintained.
By 1892, enlightenment had progressed to the point where the Salem trials were simply an embarrassing blot on the history of New England. They were a part of the past that was best forgotten: a reminder of how far the human race had come in two centuries.
Why consider debates in the English House of Commons in 1628 along with documents on American developments in the late eighteenth century? The juxtaposition is not capricious, because the Commons during this period generated many of the ideas that were later embodied in the government of the United States.
In 1787, many Americans were convinced that the 'perpetual union' they had created in winning independence was collapsing. Six years earlier, in the Articles of Confederation, the thirteen state governments had surrendered extensive powers to a congress of delegates from each state legislature.
Thomas Paine, so celebrated and so despised as he traveled through the critical events of his time, has long appealed to biographers. Paine was present at the creation both of the United States and of the French Republic. His eloquence, in the pamphlet 'Common Sense,' propelled the American colonists toward independence.
The southern colonists were not preoccupied with their own historical significance and mostly did not bother even to make the records of births, marriages, and deaths that they required of themselves by law. Nor did they write accounts of what they were up to for the benefit of posterity.
Apart from the intrinsic interest of the complex system of beliefs the Puritans carried with them, their lives give a clue to what it meant at the beginning to be American. And the level of scholarship dealing with them has reached a point where it can address the human condition itself.
When Landon Carter, a Virginia plantation owner, read the Declaration of Independence two days after it was issued, he wondered whether its ringing affirmation of equality meant that slaves must be freed. If so, he confided to his diary, 'You must send them out of the country, or they must steal for their support.'
Washington presided at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and is often credited with its success. But he had no known part in drafting its provisions.
Cotton Mather is one of those classic figures of American history who can't be left out. One has to explain him or explain him away, redeem him or denounce him.
The difference between eccentricity and originality in historical studies is often difficult to detect at first encounter. When a radically new interpretation of a large segment of history makes its appearance, time is needed to sift the evidence.
Liberty had many friends in the eighteenth century.
Most historians don't much like generalizations. Indeed, they make a trade of showing that this or that generalization about the past will not work here or there or then.
Franklin was the best known of the Founding Fathers. His death could not go without some sort of official notice. The House of Representatives, after listening to a brief tribute by James Madison, voted to wear badges of mourning for two months and then got on with business.
The three hundredth anniversary of the Salem witch trials of 1692 comes at a time when witchcraft commands a scholarly attention that would have been puzzling in 1892 or even in 1792.