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his own lifetime amounted to more than 400 titles, and his magnum opus, on which he labored most of his life, remains unpublished: a commentary on every verse of every book of the Bible.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.
Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence; Madison wrote not only the United States Constitution, or at least most of it, but also the most searching commentary on it that has ever appeared. Each of them served as president of the United States for eight years. What they had to say to each other has to command attention.
The musket, always a muzzleloader, took minutes to reload; an archer could aim and fire up to a dozen arrows in a minute. Muskets required continual cleaning and repair; bows were quickly made and easily maintained.
Between 1776 and 1789, Americans replaced a government over them with a government under them. They have worried ever since about keeping it under. Distrust of its powers has been more common and more visible than distrust of the imperial authority of England ever was before the Revolution.