UCLA historian Joyce Appleby cut her eyeteeth reviving the an old argument that Revolutionary-era America was liberal, market-oriented and highly individualistic. In her early books, she argued that the Revolution was not motivated by "republican" ideology, with its emphasis on social equality, community cohesion and political democracy, but by liberal individualism. Her latest, "Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans," is an effort to write a social history of the early Republic using this framework.

One might expect religion to play a key role in any social history of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America. But, because Appleby's political beliefs are never far from the surface--she can barely contain her enthusiasm for the early Republic, which she sees as the quintessential laissez-faire society--religion is of interest to her only insofar as it buttressed the norms of the market: "Nothing was more striking in these years than the accommodation of American Christianity to the imperatives of commercial enterprise." So while she gestures towards Protestantism--commenting occasionally on missions to the Indians, the importance of preachers in African-American communities, and the revolutionary "overthrowing of a constricted Calvinism"--Appleby fails to make religion central to her analysis. Her book will entertain readers with some charming anecdotes, but it won't go far to explain early American history.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad