If textbooks tend to understate the degree of diversity within the colonies and ignore the wide variety of participants' motives in supporting the American Revolution, they also fail to accentuate the underlying sources of unity that enabled the colonies to overcome their differences and join together in rebelling against Britain. Most textbooks still cite John Locke and other Enlightenment thinkers as the primary intellectual source of the American revolutionary tradition.
However, more recent studies point to a complex amalgam of ideas that emerged from a wide variety of sources, including ancient thinkers such as Aristotle and Polybius; Renaissance leaders such as Machiavelli; and English opposition authors, called Commonwealthmen or Real Whigs, who wrote in the 17th and early 18th centuries see Primary Source "Discourses Concerning Government" . These ideas blended with Lockean notions to produce a comprehensive ideology that inspired revolutionary fervor, spurring individuals to take action against a British regime that they believed was consciously conspiring to oppress them.
Other sources of unity emerged from a growing sense of British identity that developed among white colonists. Contrary to what one might expect, from the 17th into the 18th centuries colonial social practices, political ideas, and cultural norms grew more similar to, rather than different from, those of the mother country. Symbols of royal authority and celebrations in honor of the Crown became ubiquitous. White colonists from the middling and upper classes strove to imitate British styles of dress, codes of conduct, and social customs, including drinking tea.
Vernacular architecture and colonial legal systems came to resemble those in England more closely than they had previously. Denominational differences, such as the division between Anglicans and Presbyterians, came to matter less than a common Protestant heritage. In addition, as colonists grew increasingly prosperous, they began to purchase substantial amounts of consumer goods from Britain, providing the material basis for a shared culture.
In the decade before independence, boycotts politicized these goods and provided the basis for shared resistance against Britain see Primary Source Teapot with Slogan, "Stamp Act Repeal'd" . Ironically, in becoming more British the colonists established the common ground that enabled them to eventually become Americans. Perhaps most important, in rejecting taxation without representation, colonists were asserting their rights as Englishmen. In establishing their own nation, however, they rejected the traditional form of government, monarchy, and developed a wholly new form of republican government that was best suited to their situation.
Although textbooks are generally accurate in describing this transition, they fail to convey was what was new, different, and radical about what the American revolutionaries were doing. Even before the U.
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Constitution was written, each state, through the writing of a state constitution, established a republican government see Primary Source Fairfax Resolves . Yet the widespread ownership of land fundamentally changed the nature of representative government. Whereas in Britain only about one-fifth of the adult male population could vote for members of the House of Commons, one-half to three-quarters of all adult white males could vote for members of their individual colonial assemblies.
Once colonists became convinced that Britain was endeavoring to strip them of their liberties and reduce them to a state of slavery, they seized the reins of government for themselves. The people became the government. Instead of relying on a monarch, the government rested on the consent of the governed, first in the states, and then after with the passage of the U. Constitution, in the nation as a whole. This radical shift in the basis of power created the foundations for all subsequent developments in American history and forged the basis for a more just society.
Although some Americans today may not want to pay higher taxes, they, unlike their colonial forbears, are represented in the legislatures that pass those levies. The best treatment of British politics in relation to the developing American resistance is Charles R.
Ritcheson, British Politics and the American Revolution. Also see Eugene C. Several recent works examine the great English Whig, the Duke of Newcastle, and his policy of "salutary neglect. The definitive political biography of his successor, the Marquis of Rockingham, is difficult reading. It assumes a detailed knowledge of English politics of the period; it is Ross J.
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The most relevant discussion of Edmund Burke's views and activities in this period is Carl B. Cone's Burke and the Nature of Politics, Vol. The Age of the American Revolution. Boston was the heartland of the revolutionary movement, but there is no history of the Boston or even Massachusetts movement per se.
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Robert E. Brown, Middle-Class Democracy and the Revolution in Massachusetts, — is a basic work on Massachusetts in the eighteenth century. But the author's naive consensus view of colonial "democracy" badly mars the book. The Boston Massacre and Tea Party have been covered in the books cited above.
The premier leader of the revolutionary movement, Samuel Adams, has been ill-served by historians; no satisfactory biography has been published. John C. Miller's Sam Adams: Pioneer in Propaganda is hostile and vituperative, under the influence of the Progressive "propaganda" theory. Of the numerous biographies and studies of John Adams, best for this period, though not always reliable, is Catherine Drinker Bowen, John Adams and the American Revolution.
Though mired in detail, Page Smith's John Adams, — handles Adams's political and economic thought weakly. The heroic and often neglected Dr. William T. Baxter studies the Hancock family, as well as the life of Boston merchants of the period, in The House of Hancock, Business in Boston, — For non-Boston merchants; see Benjamin W. Labaree, Patriots and Partisans: the Merchants of Newburyport, — Robert J. Taylor has written an important work on rural Massachusetts: Western Massachusetts in the Revolution. Also see Lee N. A major revolutionary leader in Western Massachusetts receives a biography in E.
A sensible work on Rhode Island politics, placing the Ward and Hopkins camps as sectional factions rather than embodiments of a class struggle, is David S. On the same theme, see also Mack F.
Vermont was unique in that its own guerrilla rebellion against New York rule and land grants merged easily into the Revolutionary War. Jellison's Ethan Allen. Darlene Shapiro's "Ethan Allen: Philosopher-Theologian to a Generation of American Revolutionaries," William and Mary Quarterly, 21 , is a particularly good account of the influence of the libertarian and Deist thought of the guerrilla leader.
5. The American Revolution
However, the neo-Beardian approach to New York politics, especially in the correct stress on the continuity of the major conflicting groups in the pre- and post-Revolutionary periods, is found in the splendid work of Alfred F. No works are devoted to New Jersey for this period. Donald L.
Although missing the dimension of political and constitutional ideology, the political conflict in New Jersey after is detailed in Larry R. The best work on Pennsylvania politics in this period is Theodore Thayer, Pennsylvania Politics and the Growth of Democracy, — No book fully replaces Charles H.
Lincoln, The Revolutionary Movement in Pennsylvania, — Frederick B. Tolles offers an excellent account of the leading Philadelphia merchants of the period in Meetinghouse and Counting House: The Quaker Merchants of Colonial Philadelphia. Most of the rebel leaders of Pennsylvania remain unknown and untreated by historians. An early liberal leader, John Dickinson, now has a good biography, in David L. Jacobson, John Dickinson and the Revolution in Pennsylvania, — The only radical leader to be the subject of a biography is an old one by Burton A.
Konkle, George Bryan and the Constitution of Pennsylvania, — There is a good article on the vitally important Charles Thomson, John J. Of the innumerable works on the opportunistic Tory Benjamin Franklin, most are adulatory and uncritical. There is some good material, nevertheless, in Verner W. Crane, Benjamin Franjlin and a Rising People. Most objective and illuminating on Franklin's machinations in colonial politics, is William S.
Hanna, Benjamin Franklin and Pennsylvania Politics. There is nothing good on Delaware in this period. Here we must still fall back on the old and unsatisfactory John T. Scharf et al.
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For an overall account of the South in this period, John R. Alden, The South in the Revolution, — is excellent. Charles A. Barker covers Maryland's unique political and social structure in The Background of the Revolution in Maryland. The best and most thorough history of colonial Virginia is Richard L. No one has made a specific study of Virginia in the pre-Revolutionary period.
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But Charles S. Syndors' Gentlemen Freeholders: Political Practices in Washington's Virginia , is an excellent study of Virginia's political and social structure in the colonial period.
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Katherine Brown's Virginia, — Democracy or Aristocracy? Two important revisionist articles demolish the myth that Virginia's planters were exploited by being indebted to British merchants. They find this grievance was not of critical importance in the Virginia revolutionary movement. See James H. On Patrick Henry see Robert D. Meade's Patrick Henry, Vol.
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