Harvard Book Store welcomes Virginia Tech professor A. ROGER EKIRCH—author of Bound for America, Birthright, and At Day’s Close—for a discussion of his latest book, American Sanctuary: Mutiny, Martyrdom, and National Identity in the Age of Revolution.
American Sanctuary begins in 1797 with the bloodiest mutiny ever suffered by the Royal Navy. One of the mutineers, Jonathan Robbins, had made his way to American shores, and the British were asking for his extradition. Robbins informed them that he was an American citizen from Danbury, Connecticut, and that he had been impressed into service by the British. John Adams, in one of the most catastrophic blunders of his administration, sanctioned Robbins’s extradition. This miscalculation ignited a political firestorm, only to be fanned by Robbins’s execution without due process and trial by jury. American Sanctuary lays out in full detail the story of how the Robbins affair and the presidential campaign of 1800 inflamed the new nation and set in motion a constitutional crisis, resulting in Thomas Jefferson’s election as the third president of the United States. The aftershocks of Robbins’s martyrdom helped to shape the infant republic’s identity in the way Americans envisioned themselves.
Certain books were “banned in Boston” at least as far back as 1651, when one William Pynchon wrote a book criticizing Puritanism.