There was a lot more to gaining independence from Britain than the Boston Tea Party.
Tangled is the operative word in Slaughter’s (History/Univ. of Rochester; The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman, Apostle of Abolition, 2008 etc.) finely researched, arduously plotted study, a tortuous progression of arrogant strictures by an out-of-touch motherland that only led to increasing colonial disgruntlement. The first immigrants to Cape Cod were an oppositional, authoritarian lot: middlebrow, family-oriented, forming “closed, corporate communities of believers, who accepted the covenant that bound them to each other and collectively to God.” As long as they were allowed to worship freely and practice their “acetic work ethic” and trade, they prospered, yet tensions grew into the early 18th century. These included a fear of Native Americans and outside influences, an opening up of a trans-Atlantic market economy, the French expansion to the north, sectarian fissures within New England forms of worship and even “a democratization of information” in the form of the proliferation of newspapers. Slaughter looks carefully at the influence on the colonies of Britain’s empire-making across the globe, from India to the Ohio Valley, Nova Scotia to the Caribbean. The defeat of the French at Plassey (Bengal) in 1757 and Quebec in 1759 allowed the British crown to turn its administrative attention to the colonies, especially in terms of much-needed revenue, yet checks in legal and economic policy (the nuances of which Slaughter draws in stultifying detail) only heightened the colonists’ paranoia and sensitivity. The author underscores the vastly different views about “independence” versus “separation” held by the British and the colonists. The British were bewildered by the colonists’ pursuit of “anarchy and confusion,” while the colonists were first and foremost deeply rooted in a sense of personal liberty of conscience above any act of government.
Erudite and fascinating but occasionally too dense and difficult to follow.