Back in the Day

Founding Fathers, Sisters, and Cousins

Crediting new faces with birthing the U.S.A.

Book Cover Thankfully, due to the efforts of people like historians Howard Zinn, Sean Willentz, Ray Raphael, and others, the historical revisionism that views American history from the bottom up—so-called people’s history—has escaped the constricting cloisters of the academy and found its way into people’s conversations.

Evidence of this is the ongoing popularity and sales of Zinn’s magnum opus The People’s History of the United States (which topped over a million copies a few years ago), the recent broadcast of The People Speak, which is based on Voices of a People’s History of the United States, and Ray Raphael’s new book, Founders: The People Who Brought You a Nation (New Press).

As a counterpoint to a view of history promulgated by writers like David McCullough, Stephen Ambrose, Richard Brookhiser, and Walter Isaacson, which focuses and credits a small clique of men with the birthing of the United States, Raphael has expanded the scope of his inquiry to include people vital to the founding of the nation who were previously ignored. He attends to both George Washington and a private soldier in his army, a rich merchant and a revolutionary, Mercy Otis Warren, a politically active woman, a village blacksmith, and a slave owner and his abolitionist son. Ray Raphael explains:
So whom should we feature: the great men we know, or the many others we do not? The answer is both. This book focuses on the lives of seven individuals drawn from a representative sampling of Revolutionary Americans. The traditional Founding Fathers are not the only ones capable of providing narrative direction, and because they come from a narrow stratum of society with a restricted range of life experiences, they should not be our only selections. That’s why I venture to more varied echelons as well. There, by consulting the original historical records, I find fresh individuals who can be tracked through the entire period of our founding. These people also affected events of the times, and because we have not heard much from them before, they produce unexpected twists and turns in the dramatic action. Appearing together and complementing each other, they encompass the full sweep of the Founding Era. Along with a sampling of their better-known contemporaries, whom I have not neglected, they shape an authentic, engaging, and coherent drama.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
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