Saturday, February 15, 2020

Mary Beth Norton's "1774: The Long Year of Revolution"

Mary Beth Norton is the author of five books and co-editor of several others. Her textbook, A People and a Nation, a survey of U.S. history written with five other authors, has been published in ten editions and has sold more than 500,000 copies. Norton is the Mary Donlon Alger Professor Emerita of American History at Cornell University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, 1774: The Long Year of Revolution, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my new book describes some of the critical reactions in Virginia to news of the Boston Port Act, in which Parliament voted to close the port of Boston until Bostonians compensated the East India Company for the tea destroyed in the so-called “Tea Party” of December 1773. It also begins a description of similar responses in South Carolina and Georgia to the same act.

The page accurately reflects the book’s contents in one respect—its comprehensive view of the North American colonies, which differs from common treatments of the period that focus exclusively or primarily on events in Boston and Massachusetts. But in another respect, it is inaccurate, because preceding pages—though not 99, except for one brief comment on the page—describe vociferous arguments in the colonies about the Bostonians' destructive act.

My book’s major aim is to outline and analyze the widespread dissent and disagreement in America over the political choices that colonists had to make during 1774. It directly challenges the false notion that Americans in the 1770s were united in their opposition to Great Britain and consistent supporters of Boston’s radicals. In so doing, it gives voice to many moderates and conservatives—some who ended up supporting the Revolution and some who eventually opposed it—rather than privileging Boston's radical leaders, as have nearly all other historians. My discussion of the political discourse in this critical year rests on extensive reading of published and unpublished sources written by both men and women. It delineates the trajectory of events that led to the battles at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 in a way that will be revelatory even to those readers familiar with standard narratives of the coming of the Revolution.
Visit Mary Beth Norton's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue