Joseph J. Ellis: Review of Kevin Phillips's "1775: A Good Year for Revolution"

Kevin Phillips began his writing career on an auspicious note. His 1969 study, “The Emerging Republican Majority,” presciently predicted the dawn of a Republican era in presidential elections. Since then he has produced 14 more books, moved discernibly to the left, and oscillated between journalistic analyses of contemporary American politics and forays into American history.

As he explains in his new book’s preface, he tends to move back to the past when disenchanted with the politics of the present. His most recent disenchantment set in about four years ago, leading to “a decision to write about a United States taking shape rather than one losing headway.” The result is “1775: A Good Year for Revolution,” which argues that the determining events of the American Revolution occurred a year earlier than most people realize. In effect, the lightning struck several months before American independence was officially declared in July of 1776, which was really just a thunderous epilogue.

This is not as eccentric an interpretation as it sounds. You could make a case that New England was thoroughly committed to rebellion after the passage of the Coercive Acts in 1774. And if you think about it, the war actually started in the spring of 1775 at Lexington and Concord, followed by Bunker Hill in June, over a year before Jefferson wrote his justifiably famous words....

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