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Culture and Liberty in the Age of the American Revolution

Michal Jan Rozbicki

BUY Cloth · 304 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813930640 · $38.50 · Feb 2011
BUY Ebook · 304 pp. · ISBN 9780813931548 · $24.50 · Feb 2011
BUY Paper · 304 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813934136 · $24.50 · Mar 2013

Missouri History Book Award, State Historical Society of Missouri (2012)

In his new book, Michal Jan Rozbicki undertakes to bridge the gap between the political and the cultural histories of the American Revolution. Through a careful examination of liberty as both the ideological axis and the central metaphor of the age, he is able to offer a fresh model for interpreting the Revolution. By establishing systemic linkages between the histories of the free and the unfree, and between the factual and the symbolic, this framework points to a fundamental reassessment of the ways we think about the American Founding.

Rozbicki moves beyond the two dominant interpretations of Revolutionary liberty—one assuming the Founders invested it with a modern meaning that has in essence continued to the present day, the other highlighting its apparent betrayal by their commitment to inequality. Through a consistent focus on the interplay between culture and power, Rozbicki demonstrates that liberty existed as an intricate fusion of political practices and symbolic forms. His deeply historicized reconstruction of its contemporary meanings makes it clear that liberty was still understood as a set of privileges distributed according to social rank rather than a universal right. In fact, it was because the Founders considered this assumption self-evident that they felt confident in publicizing a highly liberal, symbolic narrative of equal liberty to represent the Revolutionary endeavor. The uncontainable success of this narrative went far beyond the circumstances that gave birth to it because it put new cultural capital—a conceptual arsenal of rights and freedoms—at the disposal of ordinary people as well as political factions competing for their support, providing priceless legitimacy to all those who would insist that its nominal inclusiveness include them in fact.


A remarkable book. Rozbicki offers readers nothing less than a complete rethinking of the Revolution—a quite amazing scholarly achievement in a field so densely populated with excellent monographic literature. This is the most striking treatment of the Revolution writ large since Gordon Wood’s Radicalism of the American Revolution.

Alan Tully, University of Texas, coeditor of Cultures and Identities in Colonial British America

[This] is a major work of scholarship that should compel us to rethink what we thought we knew about the subject and one that will be read for many years to come.

Journal of American History

Rozbicki's provocative cultural-political study provides avenues for new explorations of how America's 'regular folk' perceived and applied their notions of liberty to their new nation.

The Historian

A significant contribution to our understanding of the period and its processes, Rozbicki's argument is an ambitious and subtle one that inspires reflection much more than off-the-cuff reaction.

Virginia Magazine of History & Biography

About the Author(s): 

Michal Jan Rozbicki is the author of The Complete Colonial Gentleman: Cultural Legitimacy in Plantation America (Virginia). He teaches early American history at Saint Louis University.

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