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Jesse Lemisch, "Bailyn Beseiged in His Bunker," Radical History Review 13 (1977): 72-83.

Jesse Lemisch, "Bailyn Beseiged in His Bunker," Radical History Review 13 (1977): 72-83.

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Published by Michael Hattem
Jesse Lemisch's classic critique of Bailyn and the neo-Whig interpretation of the American Revolution.
Jesse Lemisch's classic critique of Bailyn and the neo-Whig interpretation of the American Revolution.

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Published by: Michael Hattem on Jan 23, 2013
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72BAILYN BESIEGED IN HIS BUNKER*Boom!... Boom!... What is that noise? Where is it comingfrom? Can anybody tell us what that noise
Maybethey're rehearsing at Lexington and Concord.... I'll tellyou what it is. It's the sound of cannon around the CharlesWarren Center at Harvard.1 Dirk Hoerder's paper—and otherslike ithave practically brought the place down. The growing assault is reducing the place to rubble. The rebels havereached Harvard, it's about to
and there's no money inthe budget to replace it. It's tragic. Bernard Bailyn hasretreated into his secret underground bunker, the one he hadbuilt back in '68 to protect him from those crazed maniacs,the STUDENT RADICALS. Look--there he is now, he's digginghis way out. Pauline Maier has him by the hand; she's leading him through a hole in the collapsed roof.2 Thank God Dirkgot out: he alone has survived to tell the tale.The foundations of Bailyn's bunker were actually laid in theperiod after World War II. While Harry Truman, the youngDick Nixon,
Edgar Hoover, and others were trying to readradicals out of the American present, historians were tryingto purge them from the past.3 But when the realities of the60's made this interpretation untenable, somebody had toupdate the old interpretation. Around here
theupdaters ran from B to
to Zobel. Most recently,in his Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson,
Bailyn has ascended toa celestial neutrality, what he humbly calls "an ultimatemode of interpretation" (Lemisch hums "Ode to
Inthis ultimate mode, Hutchinson is "savagely assaulted" byadversaries who Bailyn neutrally sees as "inflamed
"paranoiac," "the subversive party," "extremists," drivenby "passion," and "personal discontent."
And these sameloonies appear in Bailyn's version of Tom Paine, that "bankrupt Quaker corsetmaker"—can you think of anything worse?"a bankrupt Quaker corsetmaker," a "savage" and "enraged""ignoramus," whose writing was "slapdash," "crude" and"slightly insane." Get that—slightly insane.
Bailyn's current detection of a lunatic undercurrent in theAmerican Revolution replaces an earlier Bailyn version inwhich the revolutionary crowds were united with their lead
and, like them, good eighteenth-century Commonwealthmen.This was most fully spelled out not by Bailyn, but by PaulineMaier. Opening her book with a Tocqueville quotation aboutthe Revolution being marked by respect for law and order,8she gave us a law and order crowd, acting out of an ideologyshared with their Whig leaders. It is in a way a new consensus interpretation, and the term consensus, which wethought was used up a decade ago, deserves revival here,just as Gutman has recently revived it to describe Fogel andEngerman's work on slavery.
Hoerder presents us with a complex and sophisticated pictureof leaders sometimes fitting Maier's pattern and sometimes
Now leaders lead, now they follow the crowd: they oscillate between controlling and initiating
Sometimes hefinds obstacles to the "independent articulation of interests"
But what is novel and challenging is the prominencein his account of "self-Jed"
"self-organized" crowds
going beyond the control of the gentlemen
crowds showing "independence of action"
acting ontheir own, expressing other grievances than their leaders
Their independence reflects independent traditions
and, finally, a distinctive class feeling which is
albeit "rudimentary" and "submerged"
Hoerdershows us the folly of projecting ideas in the heads of crowdsfrom ideas in the heads of elites. The closer we look, themore evidence we find of self-organization and distinctive
The previous failure to see this was an artifact ofhistorians' ideology and their sources.Hoerder's stress on self-activity and the tension betweenleaders and crowds presents a serious challenge to Maierand Bailyn. But it could go farther. Bailyn is in hisbunker, we rebels think we have him surrounded, but unlessDirk and Jesse and many others in the growing rebel armydo better than we have, King Bud III may come out of thiswith his empire intact.So let me suggest some of the weaknesses that I see in thelarger attack on the Bunker. If my remarks incidentallypresent Bailyn with an escape route, they're intended as afew notes for a handbook which might finally lead to asuccessful rebellion.Hoerder would be the first to acknowledge that he hasn'tclearly established class, or class consciousness, ordistinctive ideologies. Maybe they just aren't there.
maybe other methodologies might find more. If therewere a conscious lower class, you wouldn't get very farInside that consciousness by looking at the fears of theupper class. Nixon's terror of the Left tells us something—it's relevant evidence—but not that much about whatwas in the mind of the Left. And it won't do to say, asdoes Hoerder, that when the "wealthy and powerful" taketo their
this is testimony to the "class character"of the actions of the crowd
It may be testimonyto some kind of consciousness
the part of the wealthyand powerful, and Hoerder does present plenty of evidenceof that kind of consciousness, but such projections tellus little more about the consciousness of the lowerclasses than did Maier's projections from Whig leadersinto the mind of the crowd. Holding to the notion of a"history from the bottom
I just don't see how youestablish lower-class consciousness without looking directly into the minds of the lower classes.

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