Fighting over the Founders

How We Remember the American Revolution

256 pages

January, 2015

ISBN: 9780814708163

$30

Cloth

Also available in

Author

Andrew M. Schocket is Director of American Culture Studies and Associate Professor of History and American Culture Studies at Bowling Green State University (OH). He is the author of Founding Corporate Power in Early National Philadelphia.

All books by Andrew M. Schocket

The American Revolution is all around us. It is pictured as big as billboards and as small as postage stamps, evoked in political campaigns and car advertising campaigns, relived in museums and revised in computer games. As the nation’s founding moment, the American Revolution serves as a source of powerful founding myths, and remains the most accessible and most contested event in U.S. history: more than any other, it stands as a proxy for how Americans perceive the nation’s aspirations. Americans’ increased fascination with the Revolution over the past two decades represents more than interest in the past. It’s also a site to work out the present, and the future. What are we using the Revolution to debate?
 
In Fighting over the Founders, Andrew M. Schocket explores how politicians, screenwriters, activists, biographers, jurists, museum professionals, and reenactors portray the American Revolution. Identifying competing “essentialist” and “organicist” interpretations of the American Revolution, Schocket shows how today’s memories of the American Revolution reveal Americans' conflicted ideas about class, about race, and about gender—as well as the nature of history itself. Fighting over the Founders plumbs our views of the past and the present, and illuminates our ideas of what United States means to its citizens in the new millennium.

Reviews

  • "Fighting over the Founders is divided into cross-sections, each approaching different parts of our national culture, groups which alternately revere, recreate, and research the Revolution's legacy... Fighting over the Founders, thankfully, turns the page away from the crass exploitation of the framers' legacies, toward a new understanding."

    Public Books

  • "This book looks in-depth at how [the Founding Fathers] have been used by a variety of forces and takes a wide lens to see the views, goals, and how people use history to their advantage...This is an interesting book because it looks at the present day while talking about people and events over two hundred years old."

    San Francisco Book Review

  • Fighting over the Founders is copious and entertaining. It leaves little doubt that sharp divisions in our collective memory about the Revolution reflect and shape equally sharp political contests. . . Fighting over the Founders is also valuable for its frank observations about what is often really being contested in debates over the Founders’ legacy, namely multiculturalism. Those that Schocket calls organicists celebrate forgotten Founders, not only to establish the contributions and sacrifices of ordinary Americans and minorities, but also to promote respect for their identity and acknowledge their needs in the current distribution of resources." 

    Claremont Review of Books

  • "[…] Fighting Over the Founders is an important and provocative book….The book stands out among its peers in the field of American Revolution memory studies both because of its currency and because of Schocket’s innovative approach.”

    The American Historian

  • “The book is most insightful when Schocket leaves aside his two categories and listens to what the American Revolution means to guides and visitors at historical sites, public television producers, and Revolutionary War reenactors.  They all seek an emotional connection to this heritage and long to be inspired by it, while being aware that representations of the past can never do full justice to its complexity.”

    The Journal of American History

  • “In dealing with historic sites the tension between representing a complex history and satisfying sponsors and the public is richly conveyed.  Schocket also brings out the problematic black experience at these sites, including the often thin representation of their Revolution, the racial imbalance in visitors of the sites, and the persistence of employment disparity.”

    U.S. Studies Online

  • “Schocket distinguishes between ‘essentialists’ who see the founders as demigods and who emphasize the founders’ belief in private property and Protestantism, and ‘organicists,’ who believe Americans are still in the process of trying to complete the Revolution.  Covering the years since 2000, the book analyzes presidential speeches and debates as well as best-selling books, popular movies, and historic sites.” 

    Trend & Tradition

  • "Schocket’s book will rightly become a must-read for specialists in the American Revolution and the early Republic, as well as for those engaged with understanding how history can become a way of entry into national self-understanding. His sharp-eyed approach to historic sites, museums, and parks and to such films as The Patriot and National Treasure...is particularly perceptive and enlightening."

    American Political Thought

  • "This populist study of recent speeches, films and published works reveals the many uses of America's founding ideals. Schocket has sifted through reams of material, film and text over the last 15 years and even embarked on his own treks to national historic sites like Mount Vernon and Colonial Williamsburg for a firsthand look at how the American Revolution is presented to the masses. He sees the allusions to the Founding Fathers and revolutionary heroes in speeches by Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama, and in best-sellers like David McCullough's John Adams or PBS's animated Liberty's Kids, as serving one of two points of view: An 'essentialist' approach holds the memory of the founding myth as unchanging, true and knowable—i.e., the conservative approach. The 'organicist' viewpoint maintains a more fluid approach, seeing America as an evolving theater of multicultural and feminist principles—i.e., the liberal approach. The mere mention of 'founding fathers' seems to be a catchphrase for many essentialist notions, such as whiteness, gun possession, right-to-life, even Christian, while the Constitutional phrases 'more perfect union' and 'created equal' sum up many of the organicists' tenets, such as dedication to equality and belief in progress. The discovery by DNA proof that Thomas Jefferson fathered children by his black slave Sally Hemings has blown open the neat-and-tidy mythology of the upright and incorruptible Founding Fathers and forced a reckoning with a more complicated, messy story. Schocket's visits to such historic sites as the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum and Philadelphia's private National Liberty Museum reveal the array of co-opting of the revolutionary messages. Along with Hollywood's take, the author delves into recent Constitutional Supreme Court battles and the formation of the Minutemen and tea party movements. Organized, accessible history for everyone."

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “Schocket is an opinionated and sometimes cynical writer who makes his argument—which is that institutions and politicians use the founding fathers for commercial and political purposes—with direct and provocative examples.  For example, he reveals his deep concern over American difficulties with race through a critique of the way in which politicians, biographers, and others ignore the founding father’s views on slavery.  An entertaining feature of Schoket’s writing is the gusto with which he takes on those he feels have misconstrued American history for political gain or profit, all whom he happily skewers.  Schocket covers a lot of ground in an accessible and entertaining style, with many provocative opinions to engage readers.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • "The book's first chapter is a veritable glossary of founding-era quotes and how they've been used on the stump by members of both parties.  This could be a valuable tool for speechwriters. . . Journalists and others looking to decode the rhetoric might also find it useful."

    National Journal

  • "Fighting over the Founders is a keenly observed and elegantly articulated reminder that after nearly two and a half centuries, the American Revolution remains a vital source of inspiration and argumentation for our diverse nation. From the streets of Colonial Williamsburg to the political podiums of incumbents and their challengers, and from children’s television to Hollywood epics, Schocket chronicles the continuing power of founding history and founding myths to energize contemporary debates over American culture, society, and politics ."

    —R. Scott Stephenson, Museum of the American Revolution

  • "Scholars have long been familiar withand often groused overthe literary phenomenon we call 'Founders Chic.' But in this imaginative book, Andrew Schocket provides an honest, critical, and wonderfully clever account of the complicated ways in which the Revolution still figures in our culture. Fighting over the Founders is full of thoughtful observations, wry remarks, and sharp judgments. Yet every chapter illustrates just how seriously Schocket takes his subject, and why the Revolution's legacy still reveals so much about our patriotic cultureand cult."

    —Jack N. Rakove, W.R. Coe Professor of History and American Studies, Stanford University

  • "In a time when American political discourse has come to seem both intellectually stagnant and increasingly strident, Andrew Schocket's smart and generous book should be essential reading for all of uspoliticians and ordinary people alikewho would hope to reclaim a reasonable approach to the memory of the American Revolution and the meaning of its legacy. Fighting over the Founders gives us a fine reminder of the way imaginative scholarship helps promote informed citizenship, and Schocket deserves our thanks for writing it."

    —Gregory Nobles, co-author of Whose American Revolution Was It?