Revolution Against Empire featuring detail from “The Anti-Stamp-Act” (Yale University Press)
The American Revolution is the keystone of the US national story and so its origins have garnered much attention from American historians. But to what extent were the Revolution’s causes imperial, transnational, or even global in nature? Justin du Rivage’s new book Revolution Against Empire: Taxes, Politics, and the Origins of American Independence (Yale University Press, 2017) makes a powerful argument that competing ideologies of sovereignty developed on both sides of the Atlantic. In this wider context, it becomes clear that 1776 did not erupt from a divide between “British” and “American”, but from the clash between establishment, authoritarian, and radical ideologies of governance and reform.
Author Justin du Rivage (Justin du Rivage)
Justin du Rivage received his PhD from Yale. He previously taught American history at Stanford and currently works as a consultant. We recently spoke with Dr. du Rivage from his London home about the book, crossing historiographical boundaries, and his thoughts on moving between academia and the private sector.
‘Free Trade England Wants the Earth.’ Pro-Republican Judge magazine depicts US protectionism shielding the country from the British free trade spider’s grasp, 27 Oct. 1888. Source: he ‘Conspiracy’ of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle Over Empire and Economic Globalisation, 1846-1896 (Cambridge University Press, 2016).
The last twenty-four months have witnessed world-wide dissent against the current regime of trade liberalisation. The United States disengaged from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Britons renounced the EU, and in Tokyo, Sydney, Lima, and other cities across the Pacific Rim thousands protested a potential transpacific trade partnership. While the popularity of protectionism is not unexpected, its recent embrace by political elites everywhere is more surprising. This is particularly true of the United States, which one president ago was still steering the global economy towards freer trade.
In The ‘Conspiracy’ of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle Over Empire and Economic Globalisation, 1846-1896 (Cambridge University Press, 2016), Marc-William Palen traces the roots of this debate to the United States in the 1840s. There began a political and ideological battle between Victorian free trade cosmopolitanism and economic nationalism which lasted the remainder of the century and beyond. Talks about tariffs dominated American political life. Through them, Palen is able to tell a much broader story. The Republican and Democratic parties were transformed in the process. Debates about trade influenced the character of American imperial and commercial expansion, as well as the contours of the Anglo-American struggle for empire and globalisation. Palen’s argument that economic nationalism dominated the period also forces us to rethink received notions of the US Gilded Age, which is usually portrayed as an era dominated by laissez-faire and free trade.
We recently met with Marc-William Palen in Bristol, where he resides. He discussed nineteenth century American political thought, the political economy of Anglo-American globalisation and empire in the Victorian Era, and his future research plans. Dr Palen is a historian at the University of Exeter. The ‘Conspiracy’ of Free Trade is his first book. You can follow him via Twitter: @MWPalen.
Or Rosenboim, Lecturer in Modern History at City, University of London
In December 1945, a group of intellectuals and academics met in Chicago to devise a world constitution. Just a few months earlier, the United States had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the words of the group’s convenor, global control over nuclear weaponry was imperative to prevent “world suicide.” Over the course of the next two years, the group met monthly to hash out a plan for world government. But when the results of their deliberations were published as a world constitution in 1948, it was greeted mostly with skepticism and derision. Since the project had begun in 1945, the world had moved on—the bipolarity of the early Cold War had narrowed the possibilities for world cooperation and a whole new set of international institutions (most notably, the United Nations) had been created.