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Distant Revolutions

1848 and the Challenge to American Exceptionalism
Timothy Mason Roberts

BUY Cloth · 272 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813927992 · $44.00 · Jun 2009
BUY Ebook · 272 pp. · ISBN 9780813928180 · $44.00 · Jun 2009

Distant Revolutions: 1848 and the Challenge to American Exceptionalism is a study of American politics, culture, and foreign relations in the mid-nineteenth century, illuminated through the reactions of Americans to the European revolutions of 1848. Flush from the recent American military victory over Mexico, many Americans celebrated news of democratic revolutions breaking out across Europe as a further sign of divine providence. Others thought that the 1848 revolutions served only to highlight how America’s own revolution had not done enough in the way of reform. Still other Americans renounced the 1848 revolutions and the thought of trans-atlantic unity because they interpreted European revolutionary radicalism and its portents of violence, socialism, and atheism as dangerous to the unique virtues of the United States.

When the 1848 revolutions failed to create stable democratic governments in Europe, many Americans declared that their own revolutionary tradition was superior; American reform would be gradual and peaceful. Thus, when violence erupted over the question of territorial slavery in the 1850s, the effect was magnified among antislavery Americans, who reinterpreted the menace of slavery in light of the revolutions and counter-revolutions of Europe. For them a new revolution in America could indeed be necessary, to stop the onset of authoritarian conditions and to cure American exemplarism. The Civil War, then, when it came, was America’s answer to the 1848 revolutions, a testimony to America’s democratic shortcomings, and an American version of a violent, nation-building revolution.


"Distant Revolutions" is an intriguing work, well told and with an impressive use of sources. By demonstrating the degree to which domestic and foreign policies influence each other, Roberts' work enhances understanding of both.

Elizabeth Kelly Gray, Towson University · Common-Place

A sophisticated, substantial, and groundbreaking work that fills an enormous void on works about the United States and 1848. Roberts presents a fresh and convincing explanation for why the revolutions of 1848 mattered to Americans and to United States history. By unearthing a fascinating trove of transatlantic observations and connections, this book makes a substantial contribution to transnational studies of American history.

Carl Guarneri, author of America in the World: United States History in Global Context

Distant Revolutions is the first book to comprehensively treat American reactions to the European revolutions of 1848. Roberts challenges the concept of American exceptionalism by examining how the revolutions resonated in American culture and affected American society and government. His research is impressive, and his contributions are original and important.

Andre Fleche, Castleton State College

About the Author: 

Timothy Mason Roberts is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Western Illinois University.

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