Jim Gigantino is Associate Professor of History at the University of Arkansas. This interview is based on his new book William Livingston’s American Revolution (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018).
JF: What led you to write William Livingston’s American Revolution?
JG: In my first book, The Ragged Road to Abolition, I stumbled on William Livingston, specifically his interactions as a quasi-abolitionist and his wartime leadership in New Jersey in its relation to sustaining slavery. What stunned me about him was that he had a vast collection of papers, was a member of the Continental Congress, Constitutional Convention, and a governor in a state central to the Revolution for fifteen years and no one had ever written a book about his relationship with the country’s founding since the 1830s. When I was thinking about a second project, Livingston kept coming into my head so I figured I should listen to him!
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of William Livingston’s American Revolution?
JG: William Livingston’s American Revolution explores how New Jerseyans experienced the American Revolution and managed a state government on the war’s front lines. It illustrates the operations of revolutionary era governments and those who guided the day-to-day operations, administrators, like Livingston, who served as the principal conduits between the local wartime situation and the national demands placed on the states.
JF: Why do we need to read William Livingston’s American Revolution?
JG: If you want to see how the war was prosecuted at the ground level, then this book is for you. As a wartime bureaucrat, Livingston played a pivotal role in a pivotal place, prosecuting the war on a daily basis for eight years. He is the perfect example of a second-tier founding father, those who actually administered the nitty gritty of the war. Through Livingston’s life and political career, we can examine the complex nature of the conflict and the choice to wage it, the constant battle over loyalty on the home front, the limits of patriot governance under fire, and the ways in which wartime experiences affected the creation of the Constitution.
JF: What courses do you teach at the University of Arkansas?
JG: Well, right now, I do not teach much of anything since after three years as our department’s Associate Chair & Director of Graduate Studies, I assumed the role of Department Chair this past July. In the spring, I will get back into the classroom teaching a survey course but most of my courses are mainly upper-level Colonial America and Revolutionary America courses. I also teach the first half of African American history when I have a free spot but with these administrative duties, that unfortunately is getting less and less often.
JF: What is your next project?
JG: I am working on a project tentatively titled 1804: The Year that Changed America. Through five interconnected vignettes (beginning of gradual abolition in the North, the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis & Clark’s Expedition, Haitian Independence, and the burning of the USS Philadelphia in the Barbary Coast War), 1804 illustrates how specific events in a single year influenced the course of American history. Each vignette explores one of three themes set into motion in 1804: sectional antagonism that culminated in the American Civil War, the destruction of Native American power in North America, and the economic and political expansion of American power globally. The book will integrate all of them into a single narrative that illustrates the domestic and international pressures that transformed how Americans saw themselves and their place in the world. It is still in its early stages but it has been exciting to explore a whole host of issues I have not touched for quite some time.
JF: Thanks, Jim!