The Freedoms We Lost: Consent and Resistance in Revolutionary America

Barbara Clark Smith, New Press, $25.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-59558-180-8
Smith, curator of political history at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, wishes to re-examine the idea of freedom and consider some ways in which Americans before the Revolution, while lacking the freedom of citizenship, possessed a different kind of freedom that we have lost. In a somewhat scholarly study, Smith finds that many colonists believed that ordinary men had the knowledge and status to govern their everyday lives, establish and enforce community standards, laws, and goals. This form of political agency was often expressed through the household, neighborhood, or congregation. But eventually municipal and other authorities began exercising these functions that had previously been a prerogative of "the people"—replacing direct participation with representation, and placing government, rather than the people, at the heart of political life. Smith's useful study sounds a cautionary note to groups using colonial life to illustrate an essential thread of liberty running through American history, but her overall thesis could have been demonstrated in a journal article. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/29/2010
Release date: 11/01/2010
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