No matter how hard you work, it’s likely that academics work even harder at not thinking.

That’s one of the lessons of David Lefer’s superb new history of the American Revolution and the early Republic, The Founding Conservatives: How a Group of Unsung Heroes Saved the American Revolution.

For decades, leading academic historians of the Revolution like Gordon Wood and Bernard Bailyn have been emphasizing its radicalism, focusing on the ways in which it broke down traditional class distinctions in American society, opening politics up to people of lower social backgrounds. In this way, this school of history projects a continuity between the Revolution and the Jacksonian period half a century later.

University historians have then asked why it is that the Constitutional Convention represented a Conservative reaction, presenting this as a...


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