New England in the Republic, 1776-1850

by James Truslow Adams. Boston Little, Brown & Co. l926. 8vo. xvi+421 pp. Illustrated. $5.00.
WITH this volume Mr. James Truslow Adams brings to a brilliant conclusion his trilogy on the history of New England. Like his earlier volumes, this one is based upon researches in newspaper and manuscript materials as well as a wide knowledge of scattered monographic studies, and is written with the same compelling interest and charm of style. Unlike other Adamses and earlier New England historians, the author makes no claim that Plymouth Rock is a geological formation underlying the entire United States. This is strikingly shown by his willingness to close his narrative with the year 1850, when, contrary to an older dictum that the nation had by then become New-England-ized, he declares that New England had become nationalized.
Even more so than the preceding volumes, this one deliberately avoids the point of view of the ‘old families.’ The developments of the years from 1776 to 1850, marking the transition from the social and political upheaval attending the Revolution to the nationalization of the antislavery struggle, give the author a better opportunity to depict the life of plain folk, especially their nonpolitical activities. No attempt is made to give a systematic narrative of local political events in the six states or to deal with ‘purely national’ developments. The result is a skillful and convincing portrayal of an increasingly complex regional society in process of growth and change. The author’s enthusiasm for humane causes leads him at times to stress unduly the seamy side of the common life, and, curiously enough, he omits some things which, from an intellectual standpoint at least, closely touched the ordinary citizen, such as the Lyceum movement and the rise of tax-supported libraries. Among other intellectual developments it would seem that the formation of the American Oriental Society deserved at least passing mention as illustrating one of the unexpected byproducts of the commercial impact of the Far East upon the life of Salem. Errors of fact are relatively few and unimportant; but some of his historical judgments are bound to excite controversy, such as his statement that Jeffersonian nonintercourse was ‘the most disastrous experiment’ in American history (p. 243);
In this final volume Mr. Adams, quite appropriately, sets down certain conclusions which seemed to him to hold true of the whole period of New England history that he has treated. These may be summarized as follows: (1) instead of being a ‘homogeneous social structure’ New England has always given ‘evidences of class feeling and the bitterness of economic and social clashes’ (p. 211); (2) the people of Massachusetts ‘have always shown a much greater tendency than any other part of New England to descend to the arguments of threatenings, intimidation, physical violence, bloodshed, and mob action’ (p. 122); and (3) New England history shows ‘again and again’ that ‘the “wise, the rich, and the good” have shown less collective wisdom than the members of the despised lower orders, as well as a more bitter class spirit, a narrower intellectual outlook, and a less broadly human attitude toward life’ (p. 301).
Though the author of these challenging generalizations was born outside the section of which he treats, it is only fair to note that his volumes have been published by a New England publishing house.
A. M. SCHLESINGER