What was the American Revolution? The people who joined to carry it out had different views of what they had done.
In 1595, by order of the Privy Council, the English armed services abandoned the longbow and fought with muskets for the next two centuries and more. Nobody is sure why.
In America, we may acknowledge Washington and Lincoln as great men, and probably Franklin and Jefferson and maybe Franklin Delano Roosevelt and possibly even several more, but we would probably disagree about precisely what it was that made them great, what it was that enabled them to give a lasting direction to the course of events.
Cotton Mather’s publications in his own lifetime amounted to more than 400 titles, and his magnum opus, on which he labored most of his life, remains unpublished: a commentary on every verse of every book of the Bible. Anyone who leaves that kind of record behind issues an irresistible invitation to historians.
In 1787, many Americans were convinced that the ‘perpetual union’ they had created in winning independence was collapsing. Six years earlier, in the Articles of Confederation, the thirteen state governments had surrendered extensive powers to a congress of delegates from each state legislature.
History, at its best, always tells us as much indirectly about ourselves as it does directly about our predecessors, and it is often most revealing when it deals with episodes and phenomena that we find repulsive.
The three hundredth anniversary of the Salem witch trials of 1692 comes at a time when witchcraft commands a scholarly attention that would have been puzzling in 1892 or even in 1792.
The musket could not be aimed except in a general direction; a bow in the hands of a skilled archer could regularly hit and kill an enemy completely beyond musket range.
Cotton Mather is one of those classic figures of American history who can’t be left out. One has to explain him or explain him away, redeem him or denounce him.
Liberty had many friends in the eighteenth century.