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Revolutionary Prophecies

The Founders and America’s Future
Edited by Robert M. S. McDonald and Peter S. Onuf. Afterword by Joanne B. Freeman

BUY Cloth · 296 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813944494 · $42.50 · Feb 2021
BUY Ebook · 296 pp. · ISBN 9780813945002 · $42.50 · Feb 2021

The America of the early republic was built on an experiment, a hopeful prophecy that would only be fulfilled if an enlightened people could find its way through its past and into a future. Americans recognized that its promises would only be fully redeemed at a future date. In Revolutionary Prophecies, renowned historians Robert M. S. McDonald and Peter S. Onuf summon a diverse cast of characters from the founding generation—all of whom, in different ways, reveal how their understanding of the past and present shaped hopes, ambitions, and anxieties for or about the future.

The essays in this wide-ranging volume explore the historical consciousness of Americans caught up in the Revolution and its aftermath. By focusing on how various individuals and groups envisioned their future, the contributors show that revolutionary Americans knew they were making choices that would redirect the "course of human events." Looking at prominent leaders such as Washington, Adams, Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, and Monroe, as well as more common people, from backcountry rebels and American Indians to printer Isaiah Thomas, the authors illuminate the range and complexity of the ways in which men and women of the founding generation imagined their future—and made our history.


This provocative collection reminds us that the hotly contested geopolitical and cultural programs of the early republic were risk-taking projections of the revolutionary imagination, rooted in hopeful visions of a secure American future and a longed-for unity that was always threatening to unravel. In describing and evaluating various ‘prophecies’ from the founding generation, these essays suggest that to imagine the future in Revolutionary America was to participate in making its history.

Brian Steele, University of Alabama, Birmingham, author of Thomas Jefferson and American Nationhood

Thomas Jefferson’s revolutionary prophecy, described in his iconic letter marking the 50th anniversary of July 4, envisioned a glorious future for America. The young nation had the "power to begin the world" again. In the shadows of his optimism were conflicting narratives and prophecies of doom. These were stories of the Whiskey Rebellion, enslaved African Americans, and dispossessed Native Americans. McDonald and Onuf skillfully weave these conflicting narratives into one that is a new and important contribution to our understanding of the American Revolution and the years that followed.

Barbara Oberg, Princeton University · Women in the American Revolution

The essays in this well written and engaging volume make an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the Revolution and its aftermath.

Frank Cogliano, University of Edinburgh, author of Revolutionary America, 1763-1815: A Political History

About the Author(s): 

Robert M. S. McDonald is Professor of History at the United States Military Academy and, most recently, editor of Thomas Jefferson’s Lives: Biographers and the Battle for History (Virginia). Peter S. Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia, is coeditor of The Founding of Thomas Jefferson’s University (Virginia), among other works.

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