Ohio History Journal

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Book Reviews

Book Reviews



Leadership in the American Revolution: Papers Presented at the Third Sym-

posium, May 9 and 10, 1974. Edited by the Library of Congress.

(Washington, D. C.: Library of Congress, 1974. ix + 135p.; notes. $4.50.)


The five papers presented at the Third Symposium on the American Revolu-

tion sponsored by the Library of Congress, each prefaced by a brief, gracious

introduction by L. H. Butterfield, comprise this attractive book. It is much more

successful than most collections of papers: each author is a skilled craftsman;

each writes in an area of his expertise; and each is assigned a topic that

illuminates the central theme of leadership in the American Revolution.

In his paper "American Political Leadership: The Optimistic Ethical World

View and the Jeffersonian Synthesis," Alfred H. Kelly concludes that the

"optimistic ethical world view," so named by Albert Schweitzer, has "exer-

cised a profound impact upon American political leadership, indeed . . . inter-

preted broadly it may be the principal distinguishing characteristic of that

leadership" (p. 9). The decisive American contribution to the vitality of this

view lay in a synthesis of constitutionalism, Enlightenment rationalism, and

democracy, chief credit for which Kelly assigns to Thomas Jefferson and his

political heirs of the next two generations. Today, says Kelly, the optimistic

ethical view of reality is in deep trouble, one manifestation being a loss by the

American political community of its sense of special destiny.

Marcus Cunliffe examines "Congressional Leadership in the American Re-

volution" and concludes with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson that the topic

is, on the whole, "unwriteably complex" because its issues "elude definition."

Yet he believes historians have done well, to a "commendable degree," in

sorting out the record. Most of this paper is spent identifying difficulties con-

fronting anyone attempting a comprehensive work on this topic. Cunliffe con-

cludes with some remarks leading toward a new synthesis, but modestly denies

that he is the person to write it.

Gordon Wood's "The Democratization of Mind in the American Revolution"

is perhaps the most successful piece in this collection. With grace and lucidity he

asserts that "ideas and power, intellectualism and politics" came together

uniquely in the Revolutionary Era. The leaders of this time were "intellectuals

without being alienated and political leaders without being obsessed with votes"

(p. 64). Ultimately the new democratic society would undermine both their

political and their intellectual authority. Some will argue with Wood's confi-

dence that the debate over the Sedition Act "marked the crucial turning point ir

the democratization of the American mind" (p. 81).

In his essay "Military Leadership in the American Revolution," Don Higgin.

botham displays an admirable grasp of his topic, yet there is only so much one

can do to bring system and order to the eclecticism characteristic of the Ameri

can military in the Revolutionary Era. Attention is drawn to European models

and ties and to the political consciousness of the "most successful ranking


Each of these topics defies glib generalization, but perhaps none so much as

Bruce Mazlish's "Leadership in the American Revolution; The Psychologica