Unique among Melville's works, Israel Potter was the author's only historical novel, presuming to offer the life history of Revolutionary War figure Israel Potter and featuring characters such as Benjamin Franklin and Ethan Allen. In offering the manuscript to his publisher, George P. Putnam, Melville assured him, "I engage that the story shall contain nothing of any sort to shock the fastidious. There will be very little reflective writing in it; nothing weighty. It is adventure." This came as a relief, for his previous novel, Pierre, had shocked and bewildered both critics and the public and brought down universal castigation.
Melville originally attempted to rewrite an obscure narrative entitled Life and Remarkable Adventures of Israel R. Potter, in which Potter tells of his sad fall from Revolutionary hero to London peddler. At first the novel follows the narrative, before veering off into invented episodes and historical sources unrelated to the Life. In the end Israel Potter won praise for its masculine style, Yankee wit, and alleged patriotism.
This edition is an Approved Text of the Center for Editions of American Authors (Modern Language Association of America).