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The Revolution of the People

by T.H. BreenMark Billingham

Pub Date: May 19th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-8090-7588-1
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A noted historian tells the overlooked “people’s story” of the American Revolution.

Casting a new light on the origins of the struggle for independence, Breen (American History/Northwestern Univ.; The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence, 2004, etc.) mines letters, sermons and diaries to create a lively, nuanced account of ordinary farmers’ growing resistance to the British government in the two years before the Declaration of Independence. Angry at oppressive parliamentary acts that abrogated their God-given rights, tens of thousands of rebellious insurgents laid the groundwork for a successful revolution. Their anger was every bit as important to the revolutionary story as the learned debates of the Founding Fathers. Breen describes the unfolding of the popular revolt in the countryside, from spontaneous individual crackdowns on loyalist supporters to the well-organized boycotts and other actions of local committees of safety that became “schools for revolution.” Enraged by Britain’s closing of Boston harbor in the wake of the Tea Party, more and more people from throughout the colonies joined “the American cause,” forming vigilante groups, driving Crown officials from their homes and sending food and cash to Boston’s unemployed laborers. Colonists elsewhere identified with Bostonian victims of British oppression. One Connecticut town said, “We know you suffer and feel for you,” and sent a flock of sheep; another held a public burning of the Boston Port Act, calling the Crown’s advisers “Pimps and Parasites.” In Maine, tavern owner Samuel Thompson’s vigilantes enforced a boycott of British imported goods, beat suspected loyalists and launched a guerrilla attack against the British navy. Through such acts, ordinary people from Georgia to New Hampshire joined the resistance and began creating a colonies-wide political network that proved vital in the conflict to come. “For absent these patriots in the wings,” writes Breen, “there would quite possibly be no revolutionary history to celebrate.”

An important new view of a revolution in the making.