Contributor Close-up: Bob Ruppert

About Bob Ruppert:

Bob Ruppert is a retired high school administrator from the greater Chicago-land area. He received his undergraduate degree from Loyola University and his graduate degree from the University of Illinois. He has been researching the American Revolution, the War for Independence and the Federal Period for more than ten years. His interest began in 1963 when he was eight years old. His parents took the whole family, by car, to Newport Beach, Virginia and a small town that was slowly being restored to its 18th century prominence– the town was Williamsburg.

What inspired you to start researching and writing about the Revolution?

Two people inspired me to start researching and writing about the American Revolution. The first was my mother. She was an avid reader about Elizabethan England. When I was young she would share with me a story about someone she had just read about or a critique of a book she had just read. The second person has long since been gone—John Adams. On February 13, 1822, at the age of eighty-two, he sent a letter to Hezekiah Niles, the well-respected editor of the Baltimore Weekly Register. He wanted a new generation to understand what the Revolution had really been like. He encouraged Niles to search for and collect all of the records, pamphlets, newspapers, etc. … which in any way contributed to change the temper and views of the people and then explain how the colonies under different styles of government, with different religions, customs, manners, and little communication and knowledge of each other came to agree on the principles and course of action for their common future. Adams hoped that Niles would show “the means and the measures” of their efforts so posterity might understand “that revolutions are no trifles; that they ought never to be undertaken rashly; nor without deliberate consideration and sober reflection; nor without a solid, immutable, eternal foundation of justice and humanity; nor without a people possessed of intelligence, fortitude, and integrity to carry them with steadiness, patience, and perseverance.” Like my mother and John Adams, I guess I want to be a story teller as well as be someone who in his own little way has shown “the means and the measures” of our founding fathers and mothers.

What historians or books have most influenced your work?

The historical books that have most influenced my work are Caroline Robbin’s The Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman, T. H. Breen’s The Marketplace of Revolution, Bernard Bailyn’s The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, and Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.

What are your go-to research resources?

My go-to reference resources are The Journals of the Continental Congress in the Library of Congress, American Memory, The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscripts, 1745-1799 by Fitzpatrick, and The Encyclopedia of the American Revolution by Boatner.

Which of your own JAR articles is your favorite or most rewarding? Why?

My favorite personal JAR articles are The Currency Act: A Problem and a Solution and Vice-Admiralty Courts and Writs of Assistance. They took the most time to research and figure out their real significance the played in the colonists’ litany of grievances. They pre-date some of the more well known events leading up to Lexington, such as the Stamp Act, The Boston Massacre and the Tea Party, but in many ways were just as significant.

Other than your own contributions, what are some of your favorite JAR articles?

I have five articles that I continue to enjoy re-reading. They are Gene Procknow’s Seth Warner or Ethan Allen: Who led the Green Mountains Boys, Elizabeth Covart’s Silas Deane, Forgotten Patriot, Hugh Harrington’s Tides and Tonnage: A Different Take on the Boston Tea Party, Michael Schellhammer’s Overlooked Hero: General John Glover, and Don Hagist’s The Greatest Siege. Each article is tightly woven, informative, well researched and something you would probably not even find in an AP U.S. History textbook.

What books about the American Revolution do you most often recommend?

When a friend asks me what she/he might read to better understand the American Revolution, I ask them one question – Do you mean the War for Independence or the American Revolution. Almost all of the time they responded, ‘The War for Independence’. I then tell them that to understand the War you need to understand what caused the War first. I recommend Edmund Morgan’s The Stamp Act Crisis, Hiller Zobel’s The Boston Massacre, Benjamin Carp’s Defiance of the Patriots, David Hackett Fischer’s Paul Revere’s Ride, Pauline Maier’s From Resistance to Revolution. These five I think best outline the decade from 1765 to 1775.

What new research/writing projects are you currently working on?

Rarely do I conduct research for one article at a time. I am just finishing an article entitled Thomas Pownall’s Memorial was at the center of the Adams-Vergennes Dispute of 1780 and researching Michael Rudolph: “Light Horse Harry’ Lee’s Intrepid Captain.

Why is Journal of the American Revolution important to you?

The JAR is important to me for three reasons: first, in the words of an old commentator, Paul Harvey, it tells the ‘rest of the story’; second, by telling the rest of the story it encourages its readers to think critically about what they thought they knew, and third, with the reduction of federal funding to national historical sites and the waning of the influence our bicentennial celebrations, we can never forget what are founding fathers and mothers did. They were extraordinary individuals, who did extraordinary things. Unfortunately, they have been mythologized to a point that many of us cannot relate to them. I think the JAR pulls back the curtain and allows us to see them as they really were—men and women who had strengths and weaknesses, who were gifted yet flawed, and who knew what they wanted but were unsure of the path to its attainment.

Is there an article, or subject area, that you would like to see appear in JAR?

A subject-area that might be considered for the JAR would a side-bar that identified an off the beaten track site that historians might like to visit, but is not on par with Monticello or Mount Vernon. Examples might be the home and grave of Patrick Henry or Houdon’s Statue of George Washington in the Capitol Building in Richmond Virginia.

 

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4 Comments

  • Bob, thanks for recognizing my article. I am glad you share my interest in Seth Warner and Ethan Allen!

  • Bob – great interview! I enjoyed reading your answers very much, and in particular – your idea for visiting and writing about “off-the-beaten track” sites. Very perceptive and interesting! I feel not all of the important spots in the Revolutionary War involve windows where you pay admission or where the site exits you out at the gift store.

    It’s also very interesting that you make the distinction between “… the War for Independence or the American Revolution”. Can you elaborate on that?

    I’ve always felt the War was the War, but that the American Revolution was inclusive of the events leading up to the War, the War itself, and the designing/ratifying of of the Constitution. Basically up to the moment Washington was sworn in as president.

    Your thoughts?

  • John,

    Thank You for your kind remarks!

    For me, the American Revolution began with the signing of the Treaty of Peace in 1763 to end the French and Indian War. It increased the size of the British territory in North America and caused an increase in the number of soldiers in the colonies. This expense, along with a National debt that doubled because of the War, caused the economic sanction ball rolling: the Revenue (Sugar) Act, the Currency Act, a revised version of the Navigation Acts, the Stamp Act, the Declaratory Act, the Townshend Acts, etc …
    Amazingly, in Constantinople, the French ambassador to the Ottoman Court wrote with foresight: “The colonies will no longer need Britain’s protection. She will call on them to contribute toward supporting the burdens they have helped bring on her, and they will answer by striking off their chains.” This ambassador was none other than the Comte de Vergennes who twelve years later would serve as France’s foreign minister and become the architect of his country’s pro-American policy.

    I mark the end of the Revolution with the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800 and his Inaugural Speech. He outlined his “Essential Principles’ and invited all Americans to come together and work towards Nationhood. “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have [been] called by different names, [but we are] brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans – We are all Federalists.”

  • I like your interpretation of the “American Revolution”, Bob. I think it’s very interesting you perceive the end of it with Jefferson’s presidency in 1800, whereas I had always considered it closed with Washington’s inauguration. Others I have asked have said it really happened from 1763 to 1774. What happened after that was just “cleanup”. And so on…and so on…

    I love your quote by that “French ambassador to the Ottoman Court” guy. Comte de Vergennes not only correctly predicted the future, he had a huge hand in shaping it.

    Thank you again.

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