FROM RESISTANCE TO REVOLUTION: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776 by Pauline Maier

FROM RESISTANCE TO REVOLUTION: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776

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KIRKUS REVIEW

One thesis of this book is commonplace: that American leaders sought political dissociation from England only after a long, reluctant process of recognition that King, Parliament, and ministry were consciously united in their intolerable policies. From the 1765 Stamp Act resistance to ""open conflict"" after 1773, Maier stresses changing perceptions of the King's culpability and -- here the book's emphasis is fresher -- describes the extinction of American hopes for successful efforts on their behalf by John Wilkes and the London merchantry. Maier is at pains to show that colonial leaders were not rabble-rousers but ""continually enjoined (their) followers to peace and order."" Many scholars would argue that this restraint can best be understood in relation to internal politics and social dynamics which Maier slides over with comfortable references to ""the colonists"" tout court. Why ""the task of restraining popular violence became increasingly difficult"" in the 1770's is not really explained; nor is it related to historical controversies about the degree and importance of democratic stirrings in the colonies. This book tends to present ""concern for restraint and order"" as a matter of revolutionary dignity and discipline, reinforced by Whig ideology while ignoring the threat of popular rising and disorders to the colonial elites themselves. Mooting the rabblerousers was a question of self-interest, not revolutionary idealism. Quoting John Adams so blankly on such matters further testifies to the failure to come to grips with conservative-democratic differences and internal strains. The highly interesting introductory stress on the 18th century's tolerance of popular uprisings identifies the problem of the elite's ability to use and channel mass ferment, but the book, failing to draw out its social and Political implications, remains less than the sum of its well-presented parts.

Pub Date: May 11th, 1972
Publisher: Knopf