CRF Blog

Revolutionaries

by Bill Hayes

Jack Rakove, professor of history at Stanford University, has written Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America. It shows how the men who founded America transformed themselves into the Founders. One of Rakove’s previous works was Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

From the review of Revolutionaries in the New York Times Book Review:

Part collective biography, part narrative history of the years 1773 to 1792, “Revolutionaries” adeptly explores the factors that led these remarkable men to reject British sovereignty and create a new nation. “The Revolution made them,” Rakove asserts, “as much as they made the Revolution.”

Both familiar figures (Adams, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton) and less well-known men (John Dickinson, George Mason, Henry and John Laurens) populate the narrative. Each chapter links an account of their individual transformations from colonist to American with a particular phase of the Revolutionary era. John Dickinson, for instance, epitomized the predicament of the moderates, who clung to hopes of reconciliation until wartime violence and British intransigence nudged them toward independence. George Mason’s struggle to balance his patrician assumptions as a Virginia gentleman with more radical beliefs about popular politics exemplified the kinds of challenges facing the men who wrote the first state constitutions. As much as any other political figure, Rakove argues, John Adams was a creature of the Revolution. His extraordinary career trajectory — from provincial lawyer to constitutional theorist to foreign diplomat to national executive — was possible only because he lived in extraordinary times.

Read an excerpt from the book.

Below is a talk that Rakove gave at the University of Richmond.