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Chapter 17: writers on American history, 1783-1850

1 The Revolutionary War gave our historians new motives for writing. A glorious struggle was to be described; the states, just raised out of the rank of colonies, began to demand the preservation of their earliest history; and the nation, inspired by great hopes for the future, felt that it must have loyal men to prepare the record of common growth and common achievement. The men who responded to these impulses were, perhaps, less cultured than the best of the old historians. It was long before there appeared among them one who could be ranked with Hutchinson, though some of them wrote well and displayed great industry. The stream was wider than formerly, but it was not so deep.

Of those who wrote about the Revolution, in one phase or another, the best were the Rev. William Gordon, Dr. David Ramsay, William Henry Drayton, General William Moultrie, John Marshall, and William Wirt. Less scholarly but more widely influential were Mrs. Mercy Warren and ‘Parson’ Weems.

Gordon, who was born in England, preached at Roxbury, Massachusetts, from 1770 to 1786. He was an active Whig, and after his return to England he wrote in four volumes a history of the Revolution (1788), which was widely read by the English, and in America was honoured with a pirated edition and long extracts in the newspapers. We now know that Gordon copied freely from The annual register, of which the parts dealing with America were at that time written by Edmund Burke. It is even charged that Gordon tempered his

1 For a more extended treatment of the historians of the period, see the author's Middle group of American historians (1917).

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