Close Notification

Your cart does not contain any items


Jamestown and the Forging of American Democracy

James Horn



In stock
Ready to ship


Basic Books
11 December 2018
History; History of the Americas; Early modern history: c 1450 to c 1700; Social & cultural history; Political structures: democracy
1619 offers a new interpretation of the significance of Jamestown in the long trajectory of American history. Jamestown, the cradle of American democracy, also saw the birth of our nation's greatest challenge: the corrosive legacy of slavery and racism that have deepened and entrenched stark inequalities in our society. After running Jamestown under martial law from 1610-1616, the Virginia Company turned toward representative government in an effort to provide settlers with more control over their own affairs and more incentive to invest further in the colony. Governor Edwin Sandys dreamed of creating a real commonwealth, to provide for the interests of settlers and Indians alike. Thus, in late July 1619, the newly-formed General Assembly gathered to introduce just Laws for the happy guiding and governing of the people. It was the first legislature in America, and history has cast it as the foundation of American freedom and democracy. From that moment on, propertied white colonists became accustomed to freedoms that would have been unthinkable in England with its layers of customs and hierarchy of courts and regulations, and these expanding political and economic freedoms attracted countless British immigrants and other Europeans to Virginia and the American colonies. But those very freedoms also permitted the wholesale and largely unchecked exploitation of poor white laborers and non-European peoples. More than nine-tenths of all those arriving in Virginia at this time were brought in some form of servitude or labor contract. In a cruel irony, 1619 also saw the arrival of the first African slaves in Virginia. The establishment of the General Assembly did nothing to ameliorate these disparities, but rather put ever more power in the hands of local grandees. Sandys's dream of creating a commonwealth in the interests of settlers and Indians proved short-lived. But the twin pillars of democracy-the rule of law and representative government based on the consent of the people-survived and flourished. It was his greatest legacy to America. What was lost was his steadfast conviction that serving the common good served all. This is a pattern we recognize all too well in modern American society-opportunities are not shared, inequality is rampant, racism is systemic. We would like to think these are problems that can be solved by expanding representative democracy; Jamestown teaches us, instead, that these are problems have long been created and encouraged by American democracy. Casting a skeptical eye on deeply-cherished myths, 1619 will be essential reading for anyone struggling to understand the paradox of American freedom.
By:   James Horn
Imprint:   Basic Books
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 238mm,  Width: 156mm,  Spine: 32mm
Weight:   489g
ISBN:   9780465064694
ISBN 10:   0465064698
Pages:   288
Publication Date:   11 December 2018
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

James Horn is the president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation. He is author and editor of five books on colonial American history, including A Land As God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America and A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.

Reviews for 1619: Jamestown and the Forging of American Democracy

Readers may question whether the 1619 election deeply influenced our institutions, but it was the first, and Horn has expertly illuminated a little-known era following Jamestown's settlement. --Kirkus No one today knows more about early Virginia than James Horn. In evocative and clear-headed prose, he dissects the core events of its turbulent founding to reveal how the rule of law and self-government took hold the same year that the arrival of Africans in Jamestown announced English Americans' horrific original sin. 1619, built from Horn's unparalleled mastery of a vast body of evidence, is the most thoughtful book we have on this formative moment in our nation's history. --Peter C. Mancall, author of Fatal Journey: The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson Mix English political theory, several hundred settlers trying to better themselves, and a shipload of slaves; add four centuries, and you have America. James Horn explains why Jamestown is our national starting point. --Richard Brookhiser, author of John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court Freedom and slavery in America were born at the same time and the same place, two hundred years ago in Virginia. Master historian James Horn tells these two inextricably linked stories in his powerful new book, 1619: Jamestown and the Forging of American Democracy. Inspired by a vision of establishing a just commonwealth, the Virginia Company authorized the first meeting of an elected legislature in English America in late July or early August; a few weeks later an English privateer sold approximately 20 enslaved Africans to Virginia planters. If at the first the coincidence seemed unremarkable to colonists, its consequences soon proved fateful for Virginia-and ultimately for America. If the tragic legacies of racial slavery are still with us, so too is the possibility of progress in an enlightened, self-governing commonwealth. --Peter S. Onuf, University of Virginia

See Also