Review

Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America's Founding Fathers

by Michael Barone

Michael Barone is best known in political circles for the
biennial Almanac of American Politics, which contains
vital information about individual leaders and areas of the
country. He is a high-ranking journalist who shows up on the Sunday
morning talk shows from time to time to explain What It All Means.
He knows Washington, its folkways and, most importantly, his
political history.

In OUR FIRST REVOLUTION, Barone transfers his insight into a new
environment --- the political maelstrom of 17th-century Britain.
And "maelstrom" is close to the right word for the level of
upheaval that precedes his story. Within the lifetime of its
central figure, King James II, the realm had known a fierce Civil
War, the execution of a sitting King, the rule of an unelected
"Lord Protector" and the reinstitution of the monarchy. As you can
see, this is not the sort of political environment where it matters
much who is on the Agriculture Committee.

OUR FIRST REVOLUTION begins by looking backward, with a quick,
almost breathless review of both European and English history to
date, most of which centers on the aftermath of the Protestant
Reformation. Years of warfare had led to the principle that the
religion of the king determined the religion of the people --- a
problem in England that had shuttled between Protestant and
Catholic monarchs.  After the restoration of the monarchy
under Charles II, the issue of the king's faith seemed settled ---
until the heir apparent, James, Duke of York, announced that he was
converting to Catholicism. This conversion was a real and apparent
threat to English Protestants, who feared yet another spate of
unrest and rebellion.

Barone does a masterful job of explicating the political and
extra-political measures that were brought to bear to keep James
off the throne --- everything from rumor-mongering to preemptive
legislation. Keeping track of the intricate plotting, things like
Ecclesiastical Commissions and the Exclusion Crisis are right in
Barone's wheelhouse. He stays on the trail when the political
crisis turns into a military crisis, as James's son-in-law, William
of Orange, leads an army from The Netherlands to challenge for the
throne.

Where OUR FIRST REVOLUTION falls a bit short is in its inability to
illuminate the characters of the central actors; there is just not
enough explanation given to exactly why James II converted to
Catholicism, or what sort of personality he had, or why he fled the
throne as he did. Worse, the other principal player --- his
successor, William of Orange --- comes across as a big
stick-in-the-mud. The one really interesting character in the book
is John Churchill, who is an ancestor to Winston Churchill, and
Barone frequently and gratefully cites the great man's biography of
his distinguished forbearer. 

But OUR FIRST REVOLUTION is largely a work of political history,
not personal history, and its great plan is to show how the events
of the Glorious Revolution impacted the revolutionary thinking of
America's founders. It is a consequential story, and we are lucky
to have Michael Barone to tell it.

Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America's Founding Fathers
by Michael Barone

  • Publication Date: June 24, 2008
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press
  • ISBN-10: 1400097932
  • ISBN-13: 9781400097937