Title: Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans
Author: Joyce Appleby
Year: 2000
Categories: Social History, Economic History, Early Republic, Liberalism
Place: United States
Time Period: 1790-1830

Argument Synopsis
Joyce Appleby's Inheriting the Revolution is a synthesis of the first half century after the Revolution. She examines what she feels to be an understudied period through a cohort of people born between 1776-1800 to chart how the nation formed a new identity. In Appleby's view, this period was thought of by this generation as one of energetic, entrepreneurial, egalitarian individualism. After an initial attempt by the Federalists to impose an elitist hierarchy on American society, the Jeffersonian victory in 1800 launched a much more democratic social leveling process. Appleby's society was one that we traditionally ascribe to a later generation: the Jacksonian America described by Alexis de Tocqueville. Instead, she places many of its characteristics several decades earlier (Jeffersonian America).

The first component is that of commercial liberalism. Appleby champions the positive effects of a bustling free market system that allowed individuals to make themselves in a world marked by chaotic mobility and expansion westward. This was mirrored in politics by the rise of democratic participatory politics for white men - a pattern bolstered by a vibrant and thriving print culture. Political participation was closely linked to an explosion of religious participation, primarily through the Second Great Awakening. As revivalists swept the country, it gave heft to very public reform movements such as temperance and antislavery. This vision of America, however, was crafted by a specific group of people: white men. Women, blacks, and Indians were largely excluded. Importantly, she notes how this national identity also swung heavily towards a Northern vision of "American-ness". The South, in contrast, was hamstrung by its reliance on a profitable but un-innovative cotton/slave economy and its conservative fear of public reform movements that had the potential to undermine slavery. Appleby ascribes the roots of sectionalism to a much earlier period. Despite Appleby's asides concerning those who were left out, her portrait of the early republic is overwhelmingly enthusiastic and optimistic: a society of thrillingly expanding commercial, political, and religious opportunity for white men.
Key Themes and Concepts
- Competing visions for America, one that emerges triumphant: Northern, White, Man
- Divergence of North and South
- Liberalism, individualism, rise of commerce and entrepreneurialism, free market, small government
- Importance of Jeffersonian victory in 1800 - Federalist vision of America was much more elitist
- Vibrant print culture
- Hand-in-hand growing political + religious participation
- More opportunities for younger generation

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U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries by Cameron Blevins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.