Sunday, August 17, 2014

John Fea: "The Author's Corner with Barry Shain"

Check it out here. A taste:
JF: What led you to write The Declaration of Independence in Historical Context?
BS: I was motivated to write this book, in the main, by three goals: 1) to attempt to adjudicate between radically divergent claims concerning the standing of the Declaration of Independence’s briefly articulated political philosophy in leading the colonies to separate from Great Britain, in shaping American founding constitutional traditions, and in helping form America’s incipient political institutions; 2) to challenge the methodology, frequently encountered in political theory, in which historical documents are selectively chosen and mined to produce favored outcomes; and, 3) to begin a process of re-assessing the place of democratic republicanism in the thinking of those attending America’s first three continental political bodies.


Michael Heath said...

Amazon is selling Shain's book for $118.

When Fea asks Shain what is the central argument made in his book, Shain provides three. Here's two of those three:
I hoped to show (and believe I have) that the colonies’ separation from Great Britain was not intended by the majority of the delegates attending America’s first three continental congresses, and that most delegates outside of many from New England and Virginia continued to view constitutional monarchy, as developed in Great Britain, as a preferred form of government and republicanism, at best, as a necessary evil. Additionally, I have tried to show that the dispute between the colonies and Great Britain was between them (including many subjects who would choose to remain loyal) and the British Parliament (not the king), and was constitutional in nature and not predominantly novel, nor theoretical or philosophical.

For $12 new at Amazon, the general reader can get an excellent overview of both arguments by reading Pauline Maier's, American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence.

Shain's book does appear to present a valuable set of primary source documents, so I'm not arguing his book isn't worth it. It may well be for some; just that Maier's book provides a lot of bang for the buck.

Mark David Hall said...

I have spent a lot of time with Shain's new book, but admittedly it was given to me. It is really two books in one--a massive collection of primary source documents related to the Declaration that puts it in its historical context AND masterful, substantial introductions and headnotes that shine a lot of light on the texts. I understand if only scholars who specialize on the Declaration buy it, but I would strongly encourage readers of AC to ask their local libraries (public, high school, and colleges) to buy it, and to spend significant time with it.

Mark David Hall

Tom Van Dyke said...

Shain's thesis has been the early New England colonists were about community [religious at that], not