The Founding Fortunes: How the Wealthy Paid for and Profited from America’s Revolution

Tom Shachtman. St. Martin’s, $29.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-16476-6
Historian Shachtman (How the French Saved America) offers a comprehensive survey of the economic factors that led to the Revolutionary War and explores how wealthy merchants, plantation owners, and privateers supported and benefited from the conflict in this workmanlike account. Among the ranks of affluent colonists whose resistance to British rule went against their own interests, Shachtman lists John Dickinson, a lawyer and Pennsylvania land owner who called on patriots to protest the 1767 Townshend Acts by refusing to import household staples including sugar and mustard, as well as luxury items such as silk garments and jewelry. Nonimportation of British goods also boosted American manufacturing and led to “a modest redistribution of wealth,” according to a historian quoted by Shachtman. Debunking the myth of the Continental Army soldier as a yeoman farmer, Shachtman shows that most were young, poor, and propertyless. (George Washington recruited his Virginia regiment by promising enrollees 100 acres of land at the end of their service.) To equip and feed the army, prosperous merchants such as Thomas Mifflin, Washington’s quartermaster general, extended their personal credit to purchase supplies. Shachtman marshals his evidence efficiently and enlivens his account with bold, direct statements (“the Constitution was as much about capitalism as democracy”). Colonial history buffs will savor this sharply focused study. (Jan.)
Reviewed on : 11/04/2019
Release date: 01/21/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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