In 1775, however, Phillips deals with political loyalties more fundamental than the mere matter of party allegiance. His broader purpose is to write a sketch of American nationalism at the revolutionary moment when that concept first cohered. That nationalism is not predicated on the egalitarian ideals of 1776, eternally expressed in the Declaration of Independence: 1775 is manifestly an anti-1776 book. The essential argument of Phillips’s book is that most of the developments that really mattered had already taken place, and that a fixation on Jefferson’s airy platitudes will prevent us from grasping how much had already been accomplished. The more authority we ascribe to the Declaration, Phillips posits, the more difficult it becomes to understand the broader array of factors that united some Americans and divided them from others. But this insistence on the primacy of 1775 as “the pivotal year” creates more problems than it solves.
IMAGE: Presidential Minimalism: Thomas Jefferson by Eric Baker (abakersdozencomics.blogspot.com)