The Founding Conservatives: How a Group of Unsung Heroes Saved the American Revolution

David Lefer. Penguin/Sentinel, $29.95 (416p) ISBN 978-1-59523-069-0
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The American Revolution’s more conservative members get a second look in this solid new history. Lefer, a professor of engineering at N.Y.U.’s Polytechnic University, argues that American conservatism began not with the writings of Irish politician Edmund Burke, but with a handful of revolutionaries who’ve been overshadowed by their better-known founding brothers. The author focuses heavily on James Dickinson, whom Voltaire dubbed the “American Cicero” for his Farmer’s Letters newspaper column in The Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser, which in the 1760s rallied support against British taxes by encouraging colonists to boycott goods from England and publicly protest. Lefer also profiles Silas Deane, America’s first representative to France; Philip Schuyler, a major general who fought against the British; and Robert Morris, the merchant who helped fund the revolution. Again and again, the author emphasizes the moderation of his subjects (“The only time Dickinson seemed to lack moderation was when he was extolling its virtues”) as opposed to the “radicals” agitating for grander changes. Lefer does a great service by shedding new light on these “other” revolutionaries. But even though he acknowledges the dissimilarities between these men, as well as the fact that they did not form a political party, his modern labeling of them as “conservatives” feels forced, and it oversimplifies the complexities of the political discourse that was raging in the colonies. Agent: Meg Thompson, Einstein Thompson Agency. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/29/2013
Release date: 06/13/2013
Paperback - 406 pages - 978-1-59523-109-3
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