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Anglicizing America

Empire, Revolution, Republic


Edited by Ignacio Gallup-Diaz, Andrew Shankman, & David J. Silverman


Early American Studies Series

Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015

Hardcover. 320 p. ISBN 978-0812246988. $55/£36


Reviewed by Christopher N. Fritsch

Mountain View College, Dallas (Texas)


Thirty-five years ago, the supervisor of my Master’s thesis handed me a collection of essays on colonial America. The essay by John Murrin was confirming and revealing. For this American, and student of history, the essay confirmed the path by which Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, from very different environments, arrived at an understanding of English rights within an American context. Men such as Jefferson and Adams claimed, not just an inheritance that was Anglo-British; they claimed their rights as British Americans.

Secondly, the essay became very revealing. Within the framework of Murrin’s essay, I saw how it could encompass a number of things. John Adams and James Otis, Jr practiced law within an Anglo-British context but also their dress, their manners, their religion and numerous other aspects of American lives reflected an English world. Thus, Murrin’s essay developed new ways to perceive aspects of colonial America from the social and cultural to the practice of law and political thought. The essay also brought a large body of American historiography within purview. From Beer to Andrews to Gipson to Green and Pole, colonial and provincial America became part of a broader system of dynamic interplay. There was no colony without an imperial center and there was no separation in 1776 without colonists becoming more fully incorporated into an Anglo-British world.

Since then, scholars have shed greater light on the anglicization of the American colonies. Colonial worlds could now be thought of in a larger context. In some ways, Murrin’s anglicization theory created doors to begin even greater connections between colonial worlds, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and India. Thus, Murrin’s thesis encompassed much of colonial America and perhaps to an even broader part of the British Empire. Because of these factors, his essay on bench and bar in Massachusetts remains required reading for my undergraduates.

The application of anglicization theory has had a long and happy life since my encounter with it. These essays reflect some of the most recent work. What makes this volume and these essays so interesting is the application of the idea—the use of anglicization across a broad spectrum of historical inquiry. From before the American Revolution to the Early Republic, these essays examine Native American perspectives, military practices, bonded servitude, the Church of England, the development of political ideas, the development of American tax and naval policy, and foundational concepts in the development of race relations. All of this may seem strange to those of us focused on colonial development prior to 1776, but the essays centered upon the Revolution and the years following the establishment of the Federal government are just as enlightening in their use of anglicization as a means to illuminate the historical question at hand.

As valuable as the specific essays are in the volume, their value stems from the initial essays by Murrin and Andrew Shankman. These essays outline how divergent colonies found their way into an equalizing anglicization process. For example, the impact of settlement patterns between New England, the Middle Colonies, and the Chesapeake created very different local communities, governments, and problems, as well as, social and economic relations. Murrin noted that ‘the colonies had to grow consciously more English before they would ever recognize themselves as Americans’ [11-12]. As much as the successive essays show the validity of the statements and the ways by which colonies moved from being British to American, the paths which colonies took in the process varied. These paths varied from colony to colony. For example, Virginia found its way through anglicization as its economy modernized but only on the periphery of its society. On the other hand, New England became much more anglicized in the face of French power in Canada and the wars that ensued, especially the French and Indian War. However, these conflicts changed New England at its very core, according to Murrin.

Shankman confirms this variety of paths and the very different players and perspectives on anglicization. In the early pages of his essay, Shankman turns to an unusual source of Anglicization—James, the Duke of York. To Shankman, James held a vision of anglicization that included the reinstatement of Catholicism into the English mainstream and hoped that his colony of New York would facilitate that process. James achieved a more anglicized environment, as colonies such as New York and those in New England joined with English political leaders in the advance of the Glorious Revolution. James’s attempt to place Catholics in positions of power in New York and then, restructure English society that allowed Catholics to have equal standing within the nation, solidified Protestant reactions to these events across the Atlantic. For New and Old Englanders, the object of government was to ‘strengthen the state and society produced by the Glorious Revolution, all while enabling Britons to protect their legacy from its nemesis: France. Liberty, property, and Protestantism stood against tyranny, poverty, and popery...’ [28]. The anglicization process begun by James brought American colonies and the English imperial center into a more common perspective on the value of limited constitutional monarchy and absolutism.

Limited constitutional authority and absolutism became the parameters for colonists during the Revolution and Americans in the construction of government in the early Republic. From the implications that a Church of England bishop would have for many North American colonies to the intent behind Federal taxation and government spending, residents of some colonies and states often placed issues such as these within a context of limited constitutional authority and the unlimited abuse of absolutism, even within a Federalist structure. Thus, a century after the Glorious Revolution, Americans continued to see politics and political theory in terms of the events that ended the Stuart monarchy and ushered in a Greater England defined by Parliamentary supremacy and limited monarchy. So, for Murrin and the other essays within the volume, anglicization was not a process that ended in 1776 or 1783; anglicization continued to be a lens through which Americans understood the world around them.

John Murrin and anglicization theory greatly influenced the fields of colonial, revolutionary and republican history. The essays in this volume reflect the extent of the research and the depth of the thesis. As is often the case, beyond a chapter that focuses upon issues in colonial New York and specific comments about the development of communities in the Middle Colonies or their reaction to an Anglican bishop, post-Restoration colonies, such as New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, do not figure in these histories. According to Murrin, ‘village, county, and gentry were each severely weakened in Pennsylvania’ [11]. However, colonists, especially, those who were not English, became anglicized over time. Welsh residents named their communities in Welsh, but found themselves securing property in English-style courts. Swedish residents found themselves without Swedish Lutheran clergy and subsequently attended services in the Church of England. Later, German colonists learned to write wills in accordance with English legal standards. New England and the Chesapeake were not the only colonies undergoing anglicization. The Middle Colonies, although much more difficult to comprehend, still underwent a path of anglicization.

However, this is the only limitation of the essays and the volume overall. In themselves, the essays are well written, well researched, and provide new life into anglicization theory and our understanding of early America. From Murrin’s introductory essay to the well-crafted conclusion by Gallup-Diaz, this volume provides great insight. The volume and the insights will stimulate a whole new set of questions that will expand the application of anglicization and move Early American studies in new directions.


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