British North America, 1773-1776
T.H. Breen has written a fascinating account of the American Revolution. The story he tells in his new book, American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People, has been expunged from the historical record. This is not the Revolution you learned about in high school.
The American Revolution has been portrayed as a relatively bloodless affair. It was a revolt against Great Britain that was based on the abstract liberal ideas of the Enlightenment. It was centered around the lives of great men like John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington who later became known as the Founding Fathers.
In fact, this is not what happened. It was the American people themselves, not the Colonial elite, that rose up against Britain and led the Revolution.
Before there was a Continental Congress, there was an insurgency in the American backcountry from New Hampshire to Georgia. It was the insurgents who fired the first shots of the Revolution at Lexington and Concord.
Two years before the Declaration of Independence, ordinary Americans launched an insurgency that unintentionally drove events toward secession from the British Empire. As late as 1774, few Americans advocated independence from Great Britain.
The insurgents purged royal officials from the countryside on their own authority. They used terror and intimidation in small rural communities to silence or expel loyalists. This reduced the authority of the Crown to port cities like Boston.
The Revolution was a saltier affair than it is now remembered. A hint of this can be seen in the Boston Tea Party in which a violent mob destroyed a small fortune in East India Company tea. It was this flagrant lawlessness and disregard for property rights that inspired the Coercive Acts.
Ayn Rand would have been proud.
The insurgents demonstrated their liberal pieties in countless other ways: tarring and feathering loyalists, mobs beating and torturing loyalists into submission, setting up committees to judge potential loyalists as “enemies of the American cause” and “traitors to their country,” burning loyalist publications in huge bonfires, disarming loyalists, seizing their property.
Nationalism fueled the American Revolution.
This can be seen at the grassroots level in the rhetoric of the insurgents themselves. Dry abstract ideas do not move ordinary men to take up arms and risk their lives to overthrow tyranny. It was appeals to patriotism, emotion, and religion – interpreted through the lens of a popular conspiracy theory – that sparked the initial resistance among the masses.
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was published on January 10, 1776. Although it was certainly the most popular political pamphlet of the Revolution, Common Sense cannot explain why ordinary Americans took up arms against King George III.
Common Sense was published after the Boston Tea Party, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, and the invasion of Canada. George Washington was already on the field in Massachusetts at the head of the Continental Army when Americans were reading Thomas Paine.
Few Americans had ever read John Locke either. His work had been ignored in the American colonies in the eighteenth century. It wasn’t until 1773 – the year of the Boston Tea Party – that his writings came to the attention of the colonists.
Americans seized upon Locke’s Second Treatise because it provided a handy justification for their decision to resist imperial authority. This is a decision which had already been made for quite different reasons.
It is also worth noting exactly what in Locke’s work appealed most to the American colonists: it was his interpretation of the biblical story of Jephthah in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Judges. When the Israelites begged Jephthah to take up their cause against the Ammonites, he in turn asked God to decide the controversy. Jephthah made an “Appeal to Heaven.”
Locke argued in the Second Treatise that in extreme cases when a ruler betrayed his people and the judges with the authority to hear their cause sided with the tyrant, the people could make an “Appeal to Heaven” when all other avenues had been exhausted.
It was this “An Appeal To Heaven” flag with the green pine tree that was adopted as the symbol of the insurgency in New England in the heady days after Bunker Hill. The insurgents in New England were highly religious Yankee Puritans who came of age in the aftermath of the Great Awakening.
While it is true that Americans revolted in defense of their rights and liberties, these rights were the traditional safeguards of life, liberty, and property that were guaranteed under the British Constitution, which King George III was accused of subverting in a sinister Papist conspiracy. The American Revolution was fought in the name of the British Constitution which the American colonists had lived under for generations.
Thomas Paine and John Locke provided justifications for a revolt in defense of those rights – which fell on receptive ears precisely because the revolt was already in progress. When Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence in 1776, he put his own Enlightenment spin on a Revolution that had begun two years earlier among ordinary people.
Ordinary colonists were the horse in the American Revolution. Congress was the cart. A good example of this is the reaction to the false rumor that the British had destroyed Boston. A spontaneous army of over ten thousand insurgents from four colonies rose and marched to the scene to avenge the crime.
The dithering Continental Congress in Philadelphia was forced to catch up with the people and maintain its legitimacy over the swelling insurgency. Congress passed a boycott on British goods which was enforced by the thousands of grassroots “committees of safety” that the insurgents had established from Maine to Georgia.
These “committees of safety” acted autonomously and with wide latitude. They became “schools of revolution” in which local insurgents enforced revolutionary discipline on their communities. In this manner, these extra-legal institutions that the colonists had created – from Congress to the Continental Army to the Association to state conventions to local committees of safety – became the skeleton of the American government.
These new institutions acted in symbiosis to build their legitimacy. Congress gave its stamp of legitimacy to the committees of safety. The insurgents behind the committees of safety extended their authority to Congress. Without the grassroots infrastructure and military power created by the insurgents, Congress would have amounted to nothing more than an irrelevant debating society.
Breen explores the nuts and bolts of the Revolution. This book was such a delight to read. He notes how the colonists bypassed the mainstream media of their time by creating their own newspapers. Without the ability to transmit information across vast differences, the American colonists would not have been able to create and unite behind their new political identity.
Another fascinating topic was how acts of charity were the cement of the Revolution. Americans initially came to the relief of Boston. These small acts of charity though financially binded Americans in other colonies to the Patriot cause in New England. As events moved forward, this financial network was tapped to drive the American colonies toward independence.
Perhaps the most amazing observation to me is that there wasn’t a Leninist-style “revolutionary vanguard” acting in concert to incite the American Revolution. Instead, it was ordinary people in the countryside – the Joe Six Packs of Colonial America, who were then the yeomanry – who rose up against the British and stumbled into the Revolution.
The Sons of Liberty didn’t expel the British from Boston. Congress was led to the Declaration of Independence by the hot war the insurgents launched in rural New England. When the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1774, events were already spiraling out of control on the ground.
From the Stamp Act to Lexington and Concord, ordinary Americans were polarized by a series of events which they perceived as assaults on their traditional rights and liberties. King George III was raising their taxes. He was a secret Catholic trying to destroy American Protestantism with the Quebec Act. They were enduring taxation without representation.
The American colonists had always thought of themselves as proud and loyal subjects of the British Empire. In the 1760s and early 1770s, it became clear that King George III and Parliament thought of Colonial Americans, not as their equals under the British Constitution, but as their inferiors.
This perception of Americans that the British elite thought of them as their inferiors played the decisive role in their creation of a new political identity. What started as a mere tax revolt over tea and stamps morphed into American nationalism. When American blood was shed on American soil, the insurgency became the American Revolution.
The lessons for Red America to draw from the Revolution are ample and clear:
1.) Resistance of any form (such as a tax revolt) can take on its own momentum and spiral out of control in the proper conditions.
2.) The contempt of the British elite for Colonial America, not unlike the contempt of the Blue elite for Red America today, eventually activated an implicit colonial identity and transformed it into explicit nationalism.
3.) Polarization shattered the legitimacy of British rule in the American colonies. After the Boston Tea Party, the British responded by punishing everyone in Massachusetts with the Coercive Acts, which radicalized moderates and rallied the Southern and Middle Colonies to the American Cause.
4.) Acts of charity and the creation of insurgent information networks cemented the American resistance.
5.) In the American Revolution, the popular revolt among the people forced the colonial elite to choose sides. A faction of the existing elite, which became the Continental Congress, cast its lot with the insurgency, and legitimized the resistance, which dramatically expanded its ranks.
Benjamin Franklin, for example, became a delegate from Pennsylvania to Congress, whereas his son, William Franklin, remained a loyalist and was driven out as the Royal Governor of New Jersey by the insurgents.
John Adams defended the Redcoats after the Boston Massacre, but later became a delegate from Massachusetts to Congress, and eventually went on to become the President of the United States.
Elite legitimacy played a critical role in sustaining the insurgency.
6.) The insurgents were not fringe characters. They were the respectable family farmers and property owners of the countryside and small towns. They were people who were in a position to lead their communities into the Revolution, the colonial mainstream, not rabble rousers looking through the window.
I hope our readers will take the time to purchase and read this wonderful book. I’ve certainly learned a lot from it. Those who yearn to see a Second American Revolution can profit from studying the original one.
Let’s not forget that property was almost free, and apprenticeships (also know as indenture) were available to anyone who wanted to learn a trade or a profession.
The British were holding Americans back from expansion, riches & the good life, and the American colonists knew it.
Also, as I pointed out before to you, incidents like Bacon’s Rebellion had occured in numerous colonies over the hundred or so years before the Revolution. White Americans were not going to be put on the same political level as Negroes or Indians by the British government.
A suggestion: The link takes you straight to Amazon, but you’d do your community a favor if you ordered it from a local bookstore. It will cost more, but saving money at the expense of independent merchants is what gave us Wal-Mart wages and Chinese prosperity.
Hunter, you always give me reason to be optimistic, which is more than most sites I see these days. A pall of darkness hangs over us, but it is also darkest before dawn.
Discard: you could order a used copy, likely from one of those independent merchants.
Excellent review, though I must say in defense of the nominally leftist Univ of California, Berkeley, this is exactly the history of the American Revolution I was taught there.
There are an abundance of lessons here, but I think the most important is the crafting of a separate “us vs them” identity, leading to official repressive measures, which leads in turn to moderate men concluding separation is in their interest.
This is our way, and our goal.
I haven’t read the book yet, so I have not had a chance to verify the accounts of The Revolution that you wrote of. That said, you can’t compare The American Revolution to the current state of affairs. They certainly have their similarities, but we are protesting much more than taxation, lack of proper representation, etc. We are protesting all of those things, for sure, but there is much more to it. We are resisting an immense change to our Country; to our individual lives. We are fervently resisting a move toward a country which is both Socialist (in nature) & maligned with our Constitution. We (most of us) are NOT just protesting the Obama Admin, the current Congress & unelected activist Judges; we are protesting all Government officials (past & present; from both Parties- including George W. Bush) who have acted in a manner which is contrary to The Constitution. The Constitution is NOT a living, breathing document to be interpreted. It IS what it is; what is written is literally what it means. If something in The Constitution is- in one’s opinion- outdated or needs to be changed, it must be done in a Constitutional manner (see Article 5). That way- as prescribed by Article 5- the individual States would have a say in the matter during ratification. Any other way is tyranny.
Obama, along with the current Congress, is just the straw that broke the camels back & awakened a vast number of American Individuals who now see what has been going on for many years. Thank you for allowing space on your page to post.
And believe it or not we do have allies. The professional left that deep harbor of anti-whites has taken Islam under its tiny wings. I don’t think we could script it any better. Anti-whites who have to defend stoning, honor killings and the “religion” founded by a man who makes Ron Hubbard seem sane.
Yes, I agree we can take heart from the first revolution. Also, note another not often mentioned result of the grassroots level rebellion. A large number of loyalists moved to Canada, many after but also many during the rebellion because of the insurgents made their lives uncomfortable. In fact, many of them were non-whites (e.g., Iroquois, some blacks, and whites with slaves – a virtual multicultural utopia; and it seems they didn’t feel comfortable with your average white anti-crown farmer). Pushing the Redcoat supporters, or in our case diversity fools toward the exit makes fighting a revolution all the more easier. In short, fewer people to potentially fight, and a more homogeneous population alos as a result.
For me, that will be the telltale sign that we are on the right track. For example, when a modern day American ceases trying to talk to the useful idiot who is responsible for the affirmative action that just resulted in his son or daughter being rejected and actually strikes out in some manner at that idiot or another like him, then it begins to be game on; and current economic trends seem to be driving things in that direction.
Dry abstract ideas do not move ordinary men to take up arms and risk their lives to overthrow tyranny. It was appeals to patriotism, emotion, and religion
Then explain the communists.
I’m posting this to your thread because I presume Ryan doesn’t have editing privileges here.
Take another poll… you’ll find that ~ 98% of sane, regular White Americans don’t support open borders immigration from Islamic countries, less than 2% of regular, SANE White Americans want to give unsupervised student visas to Al Qaeda terrorists like Mohammed Atta.
That’s because ~ 98% of regular, SANE Americans are….
RACISTS – not idiots.
Hope that clarifies things.
Hunter, can it really be possible that your mind is so warped that you think publishing a numskull who’d make such an idiotic argument is ” a good idea”?
Seems your Phora critics were correct about you; you’re programmed to self-destruct.
I’ve always given the writers at this website a wide latitude to express their views. OD has never been an echo chamber. If memory serves, I allowed you to continue posting here after you were banned at Majority Rights due to your unpopularity there.
I have not “self-destructed.” This website has been online continuously for two years. It will remain online regardless of what happens to me. In recent weeks, you can say that I have matured somewhat, and have lost patience with radical rhetoric untethered to effective action.
I am older and wiser now. I am more realistic and pragmatic than I was before. That’s a good thing.
The communist vanguard were not ordinary men. They were radical intellectuals. In the Great War, ordinary men wanted things like peace, land, and bread.
Can you provide a link?
Hunter Wallace: A link for what? If you click on the blue text in the first paragraph of this post, it takes you to Amazon. I suggested that we walk into bookstores in our own towns, hopefully independent stores, and buy the book there. The link is human.
The 98% of white Americans being racist is an over estimate I think. Lots of them have been conditioned to be color blind or even pro-minority and anti-white.
I had ancestors in the Revolution, French & Indian War and possibly Bacon’s Rebellion. The Constitution is a contract between the people and the government. I am an American, unhyphenated. I don’t want my country to become socialist, atheist, Muslim, communist or a banana republic. Probably not 98% but I think the majority of Americans feel the same way. All means should be used to restore the Constitutional government. Active measures may be required and should be planned for.