David Ramsay (1749-1815) was a second-line political figure of the American Revolution but a first-rate and most important contemporary historian of that epoch.
David Ramsay was born in Pennsylvania on April 2, 1749, of substantial landowning parents. He graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and, after teaching for a while, took a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1772.
Ramsay settled in Charleston, S.C., and made it his home for the remainder of his life. The beginning of his political career coincided with the outbreak of the American Revolution. Much of that career was spent in the legislature of his adopted state, but he also served for 2 years in the 1780s in the Continental Congress, where he emerged as an early supporter of a strong federal government. After the ratification of the Constitution, Ramsay served in the upper house of South Carolina and on three occasions was named president of that body.
In these years Ramsay earned his way rather precariously by practicing medicine. He also used his ample talent as a writer to turn out occasional first-rate essays on the history of medicine. These did not pay anything, though, and Ramsay was in chronic financial need. Despite his talents, he proved a poor businessman. He speculated in land with such disastrous consequences that even a steady medical practice could not recoup his losses. He went bankrupt in 1798, having opposed leniency to debtors throughout his political career. He died in Charleston on May 8, 1815.
Ramsay is best remembered as the author of the most objective and sophisticated contemporary account of the Revolution. His History of the American Revolution (1789) forms the basis today for most of the multicausation theories of that epoch. Like many historians writing at this time, he relied heavily for information on the Annual Register, a British publication that summarized events each year; like contemporary historians, too, Ramsay was not always careful with the truth. But his interpretations were his own, and he was the first—and for a century the only—historian to suggest that a variety of motives had induced men and governments to support independence first and the Constitution later.
Ramsay emphasized the key role of "independent men" in motivating American nationalism, creating changes in the social structure, and capitalizing on expanding economic opportunity in the young republic. In approaching his assessment of the era in this sophisticated way, Ramsay, as one historian has suggested, may have "penetrated further into the essential meaning of the Revolution than the more arduous researches of twentieth-century historians have done."
There is no book-length biography of Ramsay. For a brief biographical sketch and an excerpt from Ramsay's writings see Edmund S. Morgan, The American Revolution: Two Centuries of Interpretation (1965).
Shaffer, Arthur H. To be an American: David Ramsay and the making of the American consciousness, Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1991. □
"David Ramsay." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 18, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/david-ramsay
"David Ramsay." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved December 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/david-ramsay
Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).
Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.
Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
- Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
- In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.