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Conceived in Crisis

The Revolutionary Creation of an American State
Christopher R. Pearl

BUY Cloth · 320 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813944548 · $49.50 · Jul 2020
BUY Ebook · 320 pp. · ISBN 9780813944555 · $49.50 · Jul 2020

Conceived in Crisis argues that the American Revolution was not just the product of the Imperial Crisis, brought on by Parliament’s attempt to impose a new idea of empire on the American colonies. To an equal or greater degree, it was a response to the inability of individual colonial governments to deliver basic services, which undermined their legitimacy.

Using Pennsylvania as a case study, Christopher Pearl demonstrates how a history of ineffective colonial governance precipitated a process of state formation that was greatly accelerated by the demands of the Revolutionary War. The powerful state governments that resulted dominated the lives of ordinary people well into the nineteenth century. Many questions vital to the nascent American society—including economic development, party formation, citizenship, public education, the separation of church and state, and the entrenchment of slavery through law and regulatory policy—were answered at the state rather than the federal level. Conceived in Crisis makes sense of the trajectory from weak colonial to strong revolutionary states, and in so doing explains the limited success of efforts to consolidate state power at the national level during the early Republican period.


Pearl has written a powerful new interpretation of the American Revolution. Not only does he make a persuasive argument about the coming of the Revolution; he also explains what may have been its most important outcome—the creation of sovereign republican states capable of realizing the will of democratic majorities. It is a major scholarly contribution.

Max Edling, King’s College London, author of A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State

About the Author: 

Christopher R. Pearl is Associate Professor of History at Lycoming College.

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