IntroductionThis paper will focus on progressive historians of the American war for independence. The wording of the title foreshadows my conclusions, but please bear with me nonetheless; for I had to call this paper something...
Another word of introduction: this paper is written with a specific focus. That is, one must decide the meaning of "progressive historiography." It can mean either the history written by "progressive historians," or it can mean history written by historians of the Progressive era of American history and shortly after. I have chosen a focus more in keeping with the latter interpretation, if for no other reason than it provides a useful compare-and-contrast "control" literature. Moreover, it allows me to duck the knotty problem of defining exactly what a "progressive historian" is. (Unless, of course, one is satisfied with the explanation that the term is merely a handle by which to grasp a group of historians, and little else.)
The last caveat is this: the focus of this essay is on the predominant question
of the historiographical period: was the war a revolution or a war for independence?
One could choose many other questions to argue, questions that historians have for
years disputed about the revolution, but there are a number of reasons why I have
chosen this particular one; the two best follow. First, it is an old and time-honored
question that professors and instructors have posed to their students for years; of
pre-Civil War historiographical questions, it is perhaps second only in fashion during
the last twenty to twenty-five years to the Jefferson-Hemmings paternity controversy.
Second, the revolution-or-independence question is one of those which must be answered
through interpretation. A case cannot be made that is so utterly conclusive as
to exclude all others; it is that very fact that makes history at once so frustrating
and so fascinating. What better way could there be to look at the writings of a specific
school of historians?
And so, in the pursuit of "personal truth," I proceed...