Modern Historians Confront the American Revolution

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This article
was originally published in Literature of Liberty.

I.
Basic Causes of the Revolution

The historian
must be more than a chronicler, a mere lister of events. For his
real task is discovering and setting forth the causal connections
between events in human history, the complex chain of human purposes,
choices, and consequences over time that have shaped the fate of
mankind. Investigating the causes of such a portentous event as
the American Revolution is more, then, than a mere listing of preceding
occurrences; for the historian must weigh the causal significance
of these factors, and select those of overriding importance.

Constitutional
Conflict Historians

What, then,
were the basic and overarching causes of the American Revolution?
The older view, dominant in the first two or three decades of the
twentieth century, laid greatest emphasis on the conflict of constitutional
ideas, on the fact that the American colonists saw the actions of
Great Britain after 1763 as interfering with their constitutional
rights as Englishmen. Typical of these works were Charles
H. McIlwain, The American Revolution: A Constitutional Interpretation.
Randolph G. Adams, Political Ideas of the American
Revolution: Britannic-American Contributions to the Problem
of Imperial Organization, 1765–1775; and Claude H. Van Tyne,
The Causes of the War of Independence. While constitutional
interpretations and conflicts played a role, the entire emphasis
came to seem to historians – and properly so – to be stodgy
and unsatisfactory; for what event as wrenching and even cataclysmic
as a revolution is ever launched on the basis of mere legalisms,
and legalisms that were often dubious at that? The “Constitutionalists”
and other early writers, were closer to the mark in noting the influence
of John Locke’s libertarian natural rights philosophy. Locke’s influence
was particularly stressed in Carl L. Becker’s The Declaration
of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas
and at least mentioned by the other writers. But while the assertion
of the natural rights of man could far better stir the passions
than mere legal and constitutional differences, there was still
a vital missing link: for how many colonists indeed sat down to
read the abstract philosophy of John Locke?

The
Progressive Historians and the Economic Dimension

The “Progressive”
historians, dominant in the later 1920s and the 1930s, added another,
and exciting dimension to the analysis of the causes of the American
Revolution. For they added the important economic dimension –
the struggles over the British attempt to impose taxes, mercantile
restrictions, and a monopoly over the importation of tea into the
colonies. But the Progressive historians did more. Inspired by the
overall work on American history of Charles A. Beard, the Progressives
also posed a contrast to the constitutional or philosophic American
motivations asserted by the older historians: namely, economic motivation
and class interests. In short, the American leaders, in particular
the wealthy merchants, struggled on behalf of their economic interests,
against British restrictions and tax levies.

Believing in
the inevitability of class conflict, and seeing only the merchants
as driven by their economic interests toward rebellion, the Progressives
then had to explain two things: the continuing recourse to ideas
and ideology by the American leaders, and the adoption of this ideology
by the mass of the public. To explain this, the Progressives fell
back on the theory of “propaganda” popular in the 1920s and 1930s:
that the ideology propounded by the leaders was mere windy rhetoric
which they never believed. The “propaganda,” they claimed, was used
to dupe the masses into going along with the revolutionary agitation.

The result
was a curious “left-right” agreement between the Progressives and
the minority of American historians of the “Imperial” school. The
latter maintained that the American Revolution was the result of
the unwarranted propaganda of sinister agitators who succeeded in
duping the masses to break their beneficent ties with the British
Empire. The major works of the “Imperial” school are Lawrence H.
Gipson, The British Empire Before the American Revolution,
and George L. Beer, British Colonial Policy, 1754–1765.

The writings
of the Progressive historians are legion, ranging from such popular
but poorly researched books as John C. Miller, Origins of the
American Revolution, to Philip G. Davidson, Propaganda
and the American Revolution, 1763–1783, to the thorough and
scholarly work by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., The Colonial Merchants
and the American Revolution, 1763–1776. The last gasp of the
Progressive interpretation in diluted form is Merrill Jensen, The
Founding of a Nation: A History of the American Revolution, 1763–1776.

But ideas do
count in human motivation. It is impossible to read the letters,
or the published writings of the leaders, as well as of the American
public, and doubt the passionate sincerity with which they held
their revolutionary ideas. Furthermore, the Progressives overlooked
several other important points.

First, while
the economic interpretation is often insightful in gauging the motivations
for State action, particularly by small groups of pullers of the
levers of State power, it is highly inadequate in explaining the
motives of mass actions, especially revolutionary actions, against
the State – whether by leaders or by the public. For a revolution
is a passionate and radical, indeed a revolutionary act.
It is difficult to believe that a people will wrench themselves
out of their habitual lives to risk at a blow “their lives, their
fortunes, and their sacred honor,” from a mere chafing at a tax
or at mercantile restrictions. There must be more to it than that.

And secondly,
the economic interpretation overlooked the very nature of the libertarian
ideology that moved the revolutionaries. This ideology integrated
moral, political, and economic liberty. Therefore it integrated
all of these revulsions against what these libertarians saw as British
invasions of their rights. Neither the Constitutionalists, stressing
the legal and philosophic, nor the Progressives, stressing the economic
grievances, saw the nature of the integrated whole of American revolutionary
ideology.

The
Consensus Interpretation

Neither did
the “Consensus” school of historians, who became ascendant in the
1940s and 1950s. Just as the Progressives reflected the Marxian
outlook of American intellectuals of the 1930s, so the Consensus
school reflected the neo-Conservative “American celebration” that
typified intellectuals in post-World War II America. The Consensus
historians were anxious to see consensus rather than conflict in
American history. And since both ideology and economic interests
can cause conflicts, both were discarded as causal factors in the
American past. Instead, the Consensus school saw American history
as guided not by “doctrinaire” ideas nor by economic interests but
rather by a flexible, pragmatic, ad hoc approach to problem-solving.
Since a revolution can hardly be a flexible approach to
consensus, the American Revolution had to be written off as a mere
localized “conservative” resistance to the British government. Furthermore,
by deprecating the revolutionary nature of the American Revolution,
the Consensus school could isolate it from the indisputably radical
French Revolution and other modern upheavals, and continue to denounce
the latter as ideological and socially disruptive while seeming
to embrace the founding heritage of America. The leading Consensus
historians were Daniel J. Boorstin and Clinton Rossiter. On the
American Revolution, their works include: Boorstin, The Lost
World of Thomas Jefferson and The Americans: The Colonial Experience;
and Rossiter, Seedtime of the Republic: the Origins of the American
Tradition of Political Liberty. Also in this school, stressing
in particular the alleged “democracy” of the American colonies,
is Robert E. Brown, Middle-Class Democracy and the Revolution
in Massachusetts, 1691–1780.

Thus, by the
end of the 1950s, American historians were further away than ever
from appreciating the fact that the American revolution was truly
revolutionary. They did not perceive that it was largely animated
by a passionately held and radical libertarian ideology that integrated
the moral, political, and economic reasons for rebelling against
the British imperial regime. But the Consensus historians did make
one important contribution. They restored the older idea of the
American Revolution as a movement of the great majority
of the American people. It replaced the view held by Progressives
and Imperialists alike that the revolution was a minority action
imposed on a reluctant public. Particularly important in developing
this position was the judicious work by John Richard Alden, The
American Revolution, 1775–1783, still the best one-volume book
on the revolutionary war period. On the left, the Marxian historian
Herbert Aptheker also advanced this position. He chided the 1930s
Progressives for their opposition to the revolution as a minority
class movement in The American Revolution, 1763–1783.

In the stifling
atmosphere of Consensus history, an important advance came with
the publication of the first volume of the monumental two-volume
work of Robert H. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution:
A Political History of Europe and America, 1760–1800, Vol. I: The
Challenge. Weaving together a scintillating tapestry of trans-Atlantic
history, Palmer vindicated the radicalism of the American Revolution.
He pointed to its decisive inspirational effect on the succeeding
European revolutions of the late eighteenth century, as well as
to the similarity of goals and ideologies. Palmer thereby restored
the older tradition of linking these revolutions on both sides of
the Atlantic, as did Jacques Godechot in France and the Atlantic
Revolution of the 18th Century. Palmer also showed that, by
one important criterion, the American Revolution was more
radical than the French, since proportionately far more Tories were
driven out of America than aristocrats were to be exiled from France.
As a “European” historian, however, Palmer was not read by the hermetically
specialized guild of “American” historians.

Bailyn’s
Crucial Breakthrough

The crucial
breakout from the miasma of American historiography of the Revolution
came from one man. He was able by sheer force of scholarship to
overthrow the Consensus and Progressive views and to establish a
new interpretation of the causes of the American Revolution. This
was Harvard Professor Bernard Bailyn, who, breaking through the
hermetic separation of European and American historians, found his
inspiration in the great work of Caroline Robbins, The Eighteenth
Century Commonwealthman. For Bailyn realized that Professor
Robbins had discovered the “missing link” in the transmission of
radical libertarian thought after John Locke. She had found it in
a group of dedicated writers, inspired by the English Revolution
of the seventeenth century, who continued to reject the centrist
Whig settlement of the eighteenth century. These writers carried
forward the ideals of natural rights and individual liberty. In
the course of editing a volume of Revolutionary pamphlets, Bailyn
discovered that Americans were indeed influenced, on a massive scale,
by these libertarian articles and pamphlets. Many of these publications
were reprinted widely in the American colonies, and clearly influenced
the revolutionary leaders. The most important shaper of this libertarian
viewpoint was Cato’s Letters, a series of newspaper articles
in England in the early 1720s written by John Trenchard and his
young disciple Thomas Gordon. The collected Cato’s Letters
were republished many times in eighteenth century England and America.

Trenchard and
Gordon, and the other libertarian writers, transmuted John Locke’s
abstract and often guarded political philosophy into a trenchant,
hard-hitting, and radical libertarian creed. Not only did men have
natural rights of life, liberty, and property, which governments
must not invade, but “Cato” and the other writers declared that
government – power – was always and ever the great enemy
of liberty, and stood ready to aggress against it. Hence, power
must always be diminished as far as possible. Men must watch it
continually with utmost hostility and vigilance, lest it break its
bonds, and destroy the rights of the individual. “Cato” particularly
denounced the propensity for tyranny of the British government of
the day. This message found an eager reception in the American colonies.

Thus, Bernard
Bailyn established the American Revolution as at one and the same
time genuinely radical and revolutionary. He showed that it was
motivated largely by firmly and passionately held libertarian ideology,
summed up in the phrase “the transforming libertarian radicalism”
of the American Revolution. Bailyn’s findings were first presented
in the “General Introduction” to his edition of Pamphlets
of the American Revolution, 1750–1776, Vol. 1, 1750–1765.
The only volume of pamphlets yet published in the series, it included
the works of such revolutionary leaders as the Rev. Jonathan Mayhew,
Thomas Fitch, James Otis, Oxenbridge Thacher, Daniel Dulany, and
John Dickinson.

An expanded
version was published as Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of
the American Revolution. Also see the companion volume by Bailyn,
The Origins of American Politics, which offered an excellent
explanation for the British royal governors being weak in the eighteenth
century at the same time that the King was dominant at home. A useful
summary of the Bailyn thesis is provided by Bailyn’s “The Central
Themes of the American Revolution: An Interpretation” in S. Kurtz
and J. Hutson, eds., Essays on the American Revolution.
The scintillating writings of “Cato” have been collected in an excellently
edited volume by David L. Jacobson, The English Libertarian
Heritage.

One problem
with the generally correct Bailyn thesis is its exclusive emphasis
on ideology, as it affected the minds and hearts of the Americans.
Historians find it easy to slip into the view that the deep ideologically
motivated hostility to Britain, while genuinely felt, was merely
an expression of “paranoia.” Indeed, Bailyn himself almost fell
into this trap in his recent overly sympathetic biography of the
leading Massachusetts Tory, Thomas Hutchinson. One of the
best historians of this period, Edmund Morgan, in the New York
Review of Books duly noted and warned against the trap in his
review of this work.

An excellent
corrective to this exclusive concentration on the subjective is
the work of the most important political (as contrasted to ideological)
historians of the pre-Revolutionary period. In the definitive history
of the Stamp Act crisis of 1765–1766, Edmund and Helen Morgan demonstrated
the majority nature of the revolutionary movement. They attacked,
as well, the actual depredations of Great Britain on American political
and economic rights. Edmund and Helen Morgan, The Stamp Act
Crisis: Prologue to Revolution. Also see the companion source
book of documents, Edmund S. Morgan, ed., Prologue to Revolution:
Sources and Documents on the Stamp Act Crisis, 1764–1766. Particularly
important is the monumental and definitive, though densely written,
two-volume political history of the coming of the American Revolution
by Bernhard Knollenberg, Origins of the American Revolution:
1759–1765; and Growth of the American Revolution, 1766–1775.
By examining British archives, Knollenberg shows that the supposed
paranoia and “conspiracy theories” of the American colonists were
all too accurate. The British officials were indeed conspiring to
invade the liberties of the American colonies after the “salutary
neglect” of the pre-1763 period.

II.
The Pre-Revolutionary Period

Political
and Economic Conflicts

We are now
fortunate in having the two-volume Knollenberg work, which supplies
by far the best political history of the events leading up to the
outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Historians had long set 1763
as the date for the beginning of conflict between Britain and the
colonies. Knollenberg’s Origins pushes the date back to
1759, toward the end of the American phase of the Seven Years War
between Britain and France.

Jack P. Greene
has shown that the Board of Trade, headed by the imperialist Lord
Halifax, had tried abortively to impose British restrictions on
the colonies in the late 1740s and early 1750s. The Board’s attempt
was finally halted by the outbreak of war with France. See Jack
P. Greene, “An Uneasy Connection: An Analysis of the Preconditions
of the American Revolution,” in Kurtz and Hutson, eds., Essays
on the American Revolution.

John Shy’s
Toward Lexington: The Role of the British Army in the Coming
of the American Revolution is a judicious discussion of British
army policies and conflicts in this period, although favorable to
the British position. Howard H. Peckham’s Pontiac and the Indian
Uprising now replaces the venerable classic by Francis Parkman,
The Conspiracy of Pontiac, as the best account of Pontiac’s
notable uprising.

The Western
lands were highly important in the politics of this period. The
best accounts of the intricate connection between government policy,
land speculation, and Western conquest are still Clarence W. Alvord,
Mississippi Valley in British Politics: A Study of the Trade,
Land Speculation, and Experiments in Imperialism Culminating in
the American Revolution and the later Thomas Perkins Abernathy,
Western Lands and the American Revolution. A pro-British
view is provided by Jack M. Sosin, Whitehall and the Wilderness:
The Middle West in British Colonial Policy, 1760–1775. The
important activities of the swindler, land speculator, and Indian
trader George Croghan are covered in the definitive account by Nicholas
B. Wainwright, George Croghan: Wilderness Diplomat. A lively
and vivid account of Indian relations on the frontier appears in
Dale Van Every, Forth to the Wilderness: the First American
Frontier, 1754–1774.

As noted above,
an excellent study of American resistance to the Stamp Act is Edmund
and Helen Morgan, The Stamp Act Crisis, with supporting
documents in Edmund Morgan, ed., Prologue to Revolution
The Boston Massacre has now been treated fully in Hiller B. Zobel,
The Boston Massacre, and the Boston Tea Party in Benjamin
W. Labaree, The Boston Tea Party. Labaree emphasizes the
importance of the role of the monopoly East India Company, in administering
the tea tax in America, in the final development of American fears
of the loss of traditional liberty. The company’s tax looting in
Bengal had caused a disastrous famine which was widely reported
in the American press. The English beneficiaries of the exploitation
of Bengal returned to England with their loot and purchased seats
in Parliament. A recent study of these “Nabobs” is P.J. Marshall’s
East India Fortunes: The British in Bengal in the Eighteenth
Century.

Disgracefully,
there has been very little work done on two vital revolutionary
organizations and institutions in the pre-Revolutionary period:
the committees of correspondence, and the Sons of Liberty. The only
overall study of the committees of correspondence is the old and
brief work by Edward D. Collins, Committees of Correspondence
of the American Revolution. The role of the Boston Committee
of Correspondence has been recently studied in Richard D. Brown,
Revolutionary Politics in Massachusetts: The Boston Committee
of Correspondence and the Towns, 1772–1774. There is no overall
study of the Sons of Liberty, but there are some valuable sectional
accounts. The best is Richard Walsh, Charleston’s Sons of Liberty:
A Study of the Artisans, 1763–1789. The New York Sons are studied
in Roger J. Champagne, “The Military Association of the Sons of
Liberty," New York Historical Society Quarterly, 41
(1957); Champagne, “Liberty Boys and Mechanics of New York City,
1764–1774,” Labor History 8 (1967); and, from a Marxian
perspective, Herbert M. Morais, “The Sons of Liberty in New York”
in Richard B. Morris, ed., The Era of the American Revolution.
A realistic and thorough history of the use of mobs in the American
resistance is now available, however; in Pauline Maier, From
Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development
of American Opposition to Britain, 1765–1776.

Several excellent
studies deal with various aspects of mercantilist restrictions and
enforcement by Britain as causes of the American resistance. Oliver
M. Dickerson’s The Navigation Acts and the American Revolution
deals with the Navigation Acts. Carl Ubbelohde treats the Admiralty
courts in The Vice-Admiralty Courts and the American Revolution.
And Joseph J. Malone covers the White Pines Acts in Pine Trees
and Politics: The Naval Stores and Forest Policy in Colonial
New England, 1691–1775. On the same subject is Robert G. Albion,
Forests and Sea Power: The Timber Problem of the Royal Navy,
1652–1862.

While marred
by its consistently Progressive interpretation, Arthur M.
Schlesinger, Sr., The Colonial Merchants and the American Revolution
1763–1776 is an important, thorough, and still-definitive account
of the merchants and the various movements and struggles for nonimportation
boycotts of England. Beverly W. Bond, Jr., The Quit Rent System
in the American Colonies, stands as the only work on the feudal
quitrents which provided a continuing source of irritation in the
colonies.

The
Role of Ideas in the Revolution

The best works
on the influence of libertarian ideology on the budding American
revolutionaries are the Bailyn and other works mentioned earlier.
George Rudé studies the radical libertarian Wilkite movement
in England in Wilkes and Liberty: A Social Study of 1763 to
1774. And Pauline Maier examines the relations between the
English Wilkites and the American radical libertarians in “John
Wilkes and American Disillusionment with Britain,” William and
Mary Quarterly, 20 (1963); as does Jack P Greene in “Bridge
to Revolution: the Wilkes Fund Controversy in South Carolina, 1769–1775,”
Journal of Southern History, 29 (1963).

Thomas Hollis
was an English libertarian who dedicated his life to reprinting
and disseminating libertarian works throughout the world, and particularly
in the American colonies, and in corresponding with like-minded
people. He has been studied in Caroline Robbins, “The Strenuous
Whig: Thomas Hollis of Lincoln’s Inn,” William and Mary Quarterly,
7 (1950). The impact of American revolutionary thought upon English
radicalism has received thorough examination in Cohn Bonwick’s English
Radicals and the American Revolution.

The influence
of French libertarian thought can be found in Howard Mumford Jones,
American and French Culture, 1750–1848. Also see Jones,
O Strange New World: American Culture, The Formative Years.
The most recent study of the impact of French eighteenth century
thought on American revolutionary developments is Henry F. May,
The Enlightenment in America.

Religion played
an important role in the development of revolutionary and libertarian
ideas. The great radical Massachusetts minister Jonathan Mayhew
has found his biographer in Charles W. Akers, Called unto Liberty:
A Life of Jonathan Mayhew, 1720–1766. The best work on the
“black regiment” of Congregationalist ministers in New England is
Alice M. Baldwin, The New England Clergy and the American Revolution.
While scarcely definitive, Herbert M. Morals, Deism in Eighteenth
Century America, has produced the only work on the significant
role of deism.

Part of religion’s
role in generating a revolutionary spirit resulted from the general
American fear of England’s placing Anglican bishops in the American
colonies. Arthur L. Cross has produced the classic work on this
subject in The Anglican Episcopate and the American Colonies.
It is now partially superseded by Carl Bridenbaugh, Mitre and
Sceptre: Transatlantic Faiths, ideas, Personalities, and Politics,
1689–1775.

An
admirable treatment of the role of the American press in revolutionary
agitation is Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., Prelude to Independence:
The Newspaper War on Britain, 1764–1776. It happily supersedes
the volume by Philip G. Davidson, Propaganda and the American
Revolution, 1763–1783, which was fatally marred by the Progressive
view that all ideology is mere “propaganda” rhetoric.

Michael G.
Kammen studies the vital role of American colonial agents to London
in A Rope of Sand: The Colonial Agents, British Policies, and
the American Revolution. See also: Jack Sosin, Agents and
Merchants: British Colonial Policy and the Origins of the American
Revolution, 1763–1875. The letters of the most important of
these agents, and a leading pro-American British Whig, are included
in Ross J.S. Hoffman, ed., Edmund Burke, New York Agent, with
his Letters to the New York Assembly and Intimate Correspondence
with Charles O’Hara, 1761–1776.

The best treatment
of British politics in relation to the developing American resistance
is Charles R. Ritcheson, British Politics and the American Revolution.
Rudé discusses the Whig and radical opposition to British imperial
designs and to Tory government at home in Wilkes and Liberty,
mentioned earlier. Also see Eugene C. Black, The Association:
British Extraparliamentary Political Organization, 1769–1793;
Archibald S. Foord, His Majesty’s Opposition, 1714–1830;
George H. Guttridge, English Whiggism and the American Revolution;
Lucy S. Sutherland, The City of London and the Opposition to
Government: 1768–1774: A Study in the Rise of Metropolitan Radicalism;
and Maurice R. O’Connell, Irish Politics and Social Conflict
in the Age of American Revolution.

Several recent
works examine the great English Whig, the Duke of Newcastle, and
his policy of “salutary neglect.” But none are satisfactory. 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.S. Hoffman, The
Marquis: A Study of Lord Rockingham, 1730–1782.

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. I.
The Age of the American Revolution. Several works detail the
Tory, or “Namierite” point of view on English politics in this period,
the most famous being Sir Lewis Bernstein Namier, England in
the Age of the American Revolution.

Revolutionary
Accounts of Cities and States

Boston
was the heartland of the revolutionary movement, but there is no
history of the Boston or even Massachusetts movement per se. Robert
E. Brown, Middle-Class Democracy and the Revolution in Massachusetts,
1691–1780 is a basic work on Massachusetts in the eighteenth
century. But the author’s nave 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, 1735–1826 handles Adams’s
political and economic thought weakly.

The heroic
and often neglected Dr. Joseph Warren is in John Cary, Joseph
Warren: Physician, Politician, Patriot. 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, 1724–1774.
For non-Boston merchants; see Benjamin W. Labaree, Patriots
and Partisans: the Merchants of Newburyport, 1764–1815.

Robert J. Taylor
has written an important work on rural Massachusetts: Western
Massachusetts in the Revolution. Also see Lee N. Newcomer’s
The Embattled Farmers: A Massachusetts Countryside in the American
Revolution. A major revolutionary leader in Western Massachusetts
receives a biography in E. Francis Brown, Joseph Hawley: Colonial
Radical.

The outstanding
work on Connecticut in this period is Oscar Zeichner, Connecticut’s
Years of Controversy, 1750–1776. 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. Lovejoy,
Rhode Island Politics and the American Revolution, 1760–1776.
On the same theme, see also Mack F. Thompson, “The Ward-Hopkins
Controversy and the American Revolution in Rhode Island: An Interpretation,”
William and Mary Quarterly, 16 (1959).

The classic
work on New Hampshire, Richard E. Upton, Revolutionary New Hampshire,
has now been supplemented by Jere R. Daniel, Experiment in Republicanism:
New Hampshire Politics and the American Revolution, 1741–1794.

Vermont was
unique in that its own guerrilla rebellion against New York rule
and land grants merged easily into the Revolutionary War. Frederic
Van de Water, The Reluctant Republic: Vermont, 1724–1791
contains a lively account of the Green Mountain Boys and of the
Vermont rebellion. John Pell’s Ethan Allen, a biography
of the Green Mountain Boys’ great leader, has now been supplemented
by Charles A. Jellison’s Ethan Allen. Darlene
Shapiro’s “Ethan Allen: Philosopher-Theologian to a Generation of
American Revolutionaries,” William and Mary Quarterly,
21 (1964), is a particularly good account of the influence of the
libertarian and Deist thought of the guerrilla leader.

Despite its
age and its Beardian interpretation, Carl Lotus Becker, The
History of Political Parties in the Province of New York 1760–1776
is still the best work on the political struggles in New York in
the pre-Revolutionary era. Alternative interpretations can be found
in Bernard Mason, The Road to Independence: The Revolutionary
Movement in New York, 1773–1777, and in the later chapters
of Patricia Updegraff Bonomi, A Factious People: Politics and
Society in Colonial New York. 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. Young, The
Democratic Republicans of New York: The Origins, 1763–1797.

The tenant
risings in the Hudson Valley of New York are treated in the only
full-scale work on the subject: Irving Mark, Agrarian Conflicts
in Colonial New York, 1711–1775. This should be supplemented
by the accounts in the early chapter of Bonomi, A Factious People,
and in Chapter III of Staughton Lynd, Anti-Federalism in Dutchess
County, New York: A Study of Democracy and Class Conflict in the
Revolutionary Era. Dorothy Dillon looks at The New York
Triumvirate: A Study of the Legal and Political Careers of William
Livingston, John Morin Scott, William Smith, Jr.

No works are
devoted to New Jersey for this period. Donald L. Kemmerer offers
the best approach in Path to Freedom: The Struggles for Self-Government
in Colonial New Jersey, 1703–1776. Although missing the dimension
of political and constitutional ideology, the political conflict
in New Jersey after 1763 is detailed in Larry R. Gerlach, Prologue
to Independence: New Jersey in the Coming of the American Revolution.

The best work
on Pennsylvania politics in this period is Theodore Thayer, Pennsylvania
Politics and the Growth of Democracy, 1740–1776. No book fully
replaces Charles H. Lincoln, The Revolutionary Movement in Pennsylvania,
1760–1776. Carl and Jessica Bridenbaugh have written a valuable
social history in Rebels and Gentlemen: Philadelphia in the
Age of Franklin. 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,
1764–1776. 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, 1731–1791. There is a good article
on the vitally important Charles Thomson, John J. Zimmerman, “Charles
Thomson, The Sam Adams of Philadelphia”; Mississippi Valley
Historical Review, 45 (1958).

Of the innumerable
works on the opportunistic Tory Benjamin Franklin, most are adulatory
and uncritical. This includes the standard account by Carl Van Doren,
Benjamin Franklin. There is some good material, nevertheless,
in Verner W. Crane, Benjamin Franklin 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., History of
Delaware, 1609–1888.

For an overall
account of the South in this period, John R. Alden, The South
in the Revolution, 1763–1789 is excellent. Charles A. Barker
covers Maryland’s unique political and social structure in The
Background of the Revolution in Maryland. This should be supplemented
with James Haw, “Maryland Politics on the Eve of Revolution: The
Provincial Controversy, 1770–1773,” Maryland Historical Magazine,
65 (1970).

The best and
most thorough history of colonial Virginia is Richard L. Morton,
Colonial Virginia; and the latter chapters of Volume II
deal with the Parsons’ Cause and other Virginia grievances down
to 1763. No one has made a specific study of Virginia in the pre-Revolutionary
period. 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.
Robert E. and B. Katherine Brown’s Virginia, 1705–1786: Democracy
or Aristocracy? is an absurd attempt to apply the Browns’ “democratic”
model, designed for Massachusetts, to a colony where it can scarcely
be relevant. 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. Soltow, “Scottish
Traders in Virginia, 1750–1775,” Economic History Review,
21 (1959); and Emory G. Evans, “Planter Indebtedness and the Coming
of the Revolution in Virginia,” William and Mary Quarterly,
19 (1962).

On Patrick
Henry see Robert D. Meade’s Patrick Henry, Vol. 1. Though
old, Moses Coit Tyler’s Patrick Henry contains long excerpts
from Henry’s famous speeches. On that other great radical leader,
Richard Henry Lee, see Oliver P Chitwood’s Richard Henry Lee,
Statesman of the Revolution.

As in the case
of Franklin, the historiography of the conservative rebel leader
George Washington suffers from uncritical adulation. Among these,
the definitive biography is Douglas Southall Freeman’s George Washington:
A Biography. While a disorganized collection of essays, Bernhard
Knollenberg’s George Washington: The Virginia Period,
1732–1775 contains valuable revisionist insights.

The literature
on North Carolina is sparse, old and unsatisfactory. Robert D.W
Connor, History of North Carolina, Vol. I, deals with the
entire colonial and revolutionary period. Hugh T. Lefler and Albert
R. Newsome, North Carolina, is a rehash.

For South Carolina
the venerable general history is Edward McCrady’s The History
of South Carolina Under the Royal Government, 1719–1776. The
standard modern work is David D. Wallace, History of South Carolina,
Vol. I. Richard Maxwell Brown has written an excellent history
of the South Carolina Regulators in The South Carolina Regulators.
The advance to revolution in South Carolina has now been covered
in Robert M. Weir, “Most Important Epocha”: The Coming of the
Revolution in South Carolina.

The only thorough
history of the Sons of Liberty in any area is Richard Walsh, Charleston’s
Sons of Liberty: A Study of the Artisans, 1763–1789.
Unfortunately no biographer has chronicled the great radical rebel
leader, Christopher Gadsden. But Richard Walsh has collected his
writings: Christopher Gadsden, Writings, 1746–1805.

On the coming
of the Revolution in Georgia, see Kenneth Coleman, The American
Revolution in Georgia, 1763–1789. On the royal government
of Georgia in this period, William W. Abbot’s The Royal Governors
of Georgia, 1754–1775, is particularly valuable.

III.
1775 and After

Revolutionary
Warfare

A concise,
judicious, overall summary of the military, political, social, and
economic history of the American Revolution is fortunately available
in John R. Alden, The American Revolution, 1775–1783.

The most important
and dramatic change in interpreting the history of the American
Revolutionary War has come about very recently: the realization
that the Americans won because, and insofar as, they were conducting
a massive guerrilla war. They fought a “people’s war” against the
superior firepower and orthodox military strategy and tactics of
the British imperial power. With modern guerrilla war coming into
focus since the late 1960s, recent historians have begun to apply
its lessons to the American Revolution, not only to the tactics
of individual battles but also in basic strategic insights. For
example, they realize that guerrilla war can only succeed if the
great majority of the populace back the guerrillas. This was the
condition during the American Revolution. The valuable military
histories of the Revolution, therefore, can be grouped into two
categories: those which antedated and those which have incorporated
modern insights into the nature and potential of guerrilla warfare.

Thus, the best
detailed history of the military conflict, devoting keen analysis
to each battle, is Christopher Ward’s The War of the Revolution.
Willard M. Wallace has prepared a useful and relatively brief one-volume
military history: Appeal to Arms: A Military History of the
American Revolution. More specifically for the standard military
history of the first year of the war, see Allen French, The
First Year of the American Revolution. And Arthur
B. Tourtellot describes the initial battle of Lexington and Concord
in William Diamond’s Drum.

None of these
books, however, was written recently enough to incorporate modern
insights on the importance of guerrilla as opposed to conventional
war. But an important one-volume military history does so: Don Higginbotham,
The War of American Independence: Military Attitudes, Policies,
and Practices, 1763–1789. Two books edited by George Athan
Billias are particularly important, both for guerrilla insights
and for penetrating “revisionist” studies of particular generals
and their strategies and tactics: George Washington’s Generals
and George Washington’s Opponents: British Generals and Admirals
in the American Revolution.

Particularly
important in the former volume is George A. Billias, “Horatio Gates:
Professional Soldier,” about a general who used guerrilla strategy
and tactics against Burgoyne, culminating at Saratoga. In the same
volume, Don Higgenbotham’s “Daniel Morgan: Guerrilla Fighter” apologizes
for the fact that his valuable biography of the war’s greatest guerrilla
tactician had been written before the advent of his own and general
interest in guerrilla warfare (Higgenbotham, Daniel Morgan:
Revolutionary Rifleman). Particularly see John W. Shy, “Charles
Lee: the Soldier as Radical,” in which Shy looks with favor at the
outstanding military libertarian and guerrilla theorist, as well
as strategist and general, of the American Revolution. Lee, who
had been drummed out of his number-two post of command and court-martialled
unfairly by George Washington, is favorably reassessed in a biography
by John R. Alden, Charles Lee: Traitor or Patriot?

Professor Shy,
who of all historians has the best grasp on the importance of guerilla
warfare in this period, brilliantly interprets the various phases
of British strategy during the war (from police action to conventional
war to counter-guerilla attempts at “pacification” in the South)
in his “The American Revolution: The Military Conflict Considered
as A Revolutionary War,” in Kurtz and Hutson, Essays on the
American Revolution. John Shy, A People Numerous and Armed:
Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence
is a collection of Shy’s essays on military history, some of which
contribute to a positive reevaluation of the importance of the militia
in defensive warfare. R. Arthur Bowler, Logistics and the Failure
Of the British Army in America, 1775–1783, shows that the hostility
of the local populations contributed to the failure of food supplies.
This hostility was compounded by British attempts to seize the food
they could not purchase.

For the political
direction of the war, see Gerald S. Brown, American Secretary:
Colonial Policy of Lord George Germain. An important volume
on militia and guerrilla warfare as against the orthodox deployment
of the Continental army in a local area is Adrian C. Leiby, The
Revolutionary War in the Hackensack Valley: The Jersey
Dutch and the Neutral Ground, 1775–1783.

On the fierce
guerrilla vs. counter-guerrilla conflicts in South Carolina during
the last phase of the war, see Russell F. Weigley, The Partisan
War: The South Carolina Campaign of 1780–1782.

The essay by
Ira D. Gruber, “Richard Lord Howe: Admiral as Peacemaker,” in Billias,
George Washington’s Opponents, indicates clearly that one
of the major reasons for the British failure to crush Washington’s
army in the first two years of the war was the Howe brothers’ treasonous
opposition (as dedicated Whigs) to the British war effort against
the Americans. On the British view of the war, see Piers Mackesy,
The War for America, 1775–1783; and William B. Willcox,
Portrait of a General: Sir Henry Clinton in the War of Independence
on the best British general, who suffered from an inability to work
well with his colleagues.

The most recent
general history of the American Revolution, Page Smith, A New
Age Begins: A People’s History of the American Revolution incorporates
many detailed insights about guerilla warfare from primary sources.

Political
History of the Revolution

On the political
history of the American Revolution, Edmund C. Burnett, The Continental
Congress remains a thorough and definitive history of that
national political institution. Merrill Jensen, The Articles
of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social Constitutional
History of the American Revolution, 1774–1781 is an excellent
study of the struggles around the Articles and the attempt to carry
Nationalism even further. Despite its age, Allan Nevins, The
American States During and After the Revolution, 1775–1789
remains by far the best, indeed the only satisfactory, state-by-state
political history of the revolutionary period. In an unfortunate
attempt to replace Nevins, Jackson Turner Main, The Sovereign
States, 1775–1783 is sketchy and overly schematic, while Main’s
Political Parties Before the Constitution is a tangled
statistical web based on a fallacious and unenlightening division
between alleged “localists” and “cosmopolitans.”

Carl Lotus
Becker’s The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History
of Political Ideas is a well-written and valuable study of
the Declaration. Curtis P. Nettels, George Washington and American
Independence demonstrates Washington’s early devotion to independence.
Eric Foner’s Tom Paine and Revolutionary America is an
excellent and sympathetic study of the great sparkplug of independence
as a libertarian and laissez-faire radical. None of the full-scale
biographies of Paine do him justice. Best is David Freeman Hawke’s
Paine.

For a valuable
Beardian study of state politics during the Revolution see Elisha
P. Douglass, Rebels and Democrats: The Struggle for Equal Political
Rights and Majority Rule During the American Revolution. A
thorough documentary history of the struggle over a Massachusetts
state constitution during the war is presented in Robert J. Taylor,
ed., Massachusetts, Colony to Commonwealth: Documents on the
Formation of its Constitution, 1775–1789. The older view that
confiscated Tory land in New York did not devolve upon the tenants
of the feudal landlords is set forth in Harry B. Yoshpe’s The
Disposition of Loyalist Estates in the Southern District of the
State of New York. Staughton Lynd refutes this view
in Anti-Federalism in Dutchess County as does Beatrice
G. Reubens, “Pre-Emptive Rights in the Disposition of a Confiscated
Estate: Philipsburgh Manor, New York,” William and Mary Quarterly,
22 (1965).

Pennsylvania,
the most radically libertarian state during the war, is examined
in Robert L. Brunhouse, The Counter-Revolution in Pennsylvania,
1776–1790. John P. Selsam deals with its radical constitution
specifically in The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776.
A valuable general work on Western Pennsylvania politics in the
revolutionary and post-revolutionary periods is Russell Ferguson,
Early Western Pennsylvania Politics. Maryland is studied
in Philip A. Crowl, Maryland During and After the Revolution.

The
Revolutionary Leaders

In addition
to the biographies of American revolutionary leaders mentioned above,
one of the numerous Jefferson biographies stands out: the magisterial
study by Dumas Malone, Jefferson and His Time, of which
see here Volume I: Jefferson the Virginian.
There is no wholly satisfactory biography of the great George Mason,
whose Virginia Declaration of Rights inspired both the Declaration
of Independence and the Bill of Rights. But Robert A. Rutland, George
Mason: Reluctant Statesman provides a brief but useful account.
Also see Robert A. Rutland, ed., George Mason, Papers, 1725–1792
and Helen Hill Miller, George Mason: Gentleman Revolutionary.
The radical Pennsylvania leader, the astronomer David Rittenhouse,
is studied in Brooke Hindle’s David Rittenhouse. And two
leading New York conservative rebels receive biographies in Frank
Monaghan’s John Jay, and George Dangerfield’s excellent
Chancellor Robert R. Livingston of New York, 1746–1831.
For a biography of General Nathanael Greene, see Theodore Thayer’s
Nathanael Greene, Strategist of the American Revolution.
A moderate Pennsylvania leader receives an important biography in
Kenneth K. Roseman, Thomas Mifflin and the Politics of
the American Revolution. New York’s great wartime governor
is studied in Ernest W. Spaulding, His Excellency George Clinton
(1739–1812): Critic of the Constitution.

Economic
and Social Aspects

On the economic
and financial history of the war, E. James Ferguson, The Power
of the Purse: A History of American Public Finance, 1776–1790
is a superb account of the machinations of Robert Morris and the
Nationalists during and after the war, including the expropriation
of public funds for private purposes by Morris and his associates,
and the drive for a strong central government to consolidate and
extend those and similar privileges. This should be supplemented
by Ferguson’s study of the first Nationalist drive, which, though
failing, prefigured the later push for the Constitution: E. James
Ferguson, “The Nationalists of 1781–1783 and the Economic Interpretation
of the Constitution"; Journal of American History,
56 (1969). For a useful biography of Morris see Clarence L. Ver
Steeg’s Robert Morris; Revolutionary Financier: With an Analysis
of His Earlier Career. There is no overall study of inflation
during the war, but Anne Bezanson, “Inflation and Controls, Pennsylvania,
1774–1779,” Journal of Economic History Supplement, 8 (1948)
is a careful statistical study.

Special groups
in relation to the American Revolution are treated in Charles H.
Metzger, Catholics and the American Revolution: A Study in Religious
Climate and in the excellent work by Benjamin Quarles, The
Negro in the American Revolution. Jesse Lemisch’s rather quixotic
program for writing history “from the bottom up” works in a particular
case where data are fortunately available. See his article, “Jack
Tar in the Streets: Merchant Seamen in the Politics of Revolutionary
America,” William and Mary Quarterly, 25 (1968). Scholars
have shown increased interest in recent years in the fate of Tories
during the Revolution. Among the best works are William H. Nelson,
The American Tory and Paul H. Smith, Loyalists and
Redcoats: A Study in British Revolutionary Policy. Also see
Mary Beth Norton, The British-Americans: The Loyalist Exiles
in England 1774–1789; Carol Berkin, Jonathan Sewall: Odyssey
of An American Loyalist; and Robert M. Calhoun, The Loyalists
in Revolutionary America, 1760–1781.

Foreign
Policy

The classic
work on the foreign policy of the American revolutionaries is Samuel
Flagg Bemis’s The Diplomacy of the American Revolution.
A far more revisionist work, treating the origins of the American
Empire and focusing on internal and external policies of European
states rather than on strictly diplomatic history, is Richard W.
Van Alstyne’s Empire and Independence; The International History
of the American Revolution. The detailed work on the negotiations
of the Peace of Paris is Richard B. Morris’s The Peacemakers:
The Great Powers and American Independence, but Cecil B. Currey,
Code Number 72/ Ben Franklin: Patriot or Spy? provides
a fascinating corrective. Currey not only demonstrates Franklin’s
participation in Robert Morris’s peculations during his ministry
in Paris; he also offers newly discovered evidence of Franklin’s
probable role as a double agent on behalf of Great Britain. Currey
describes Franklin’s shift to a pro-French role during the peace
negotiations, as well as the well-founded distrust of Franklin by
Arthur Lee, John Adams, and John Jay.

Meaning
and Consequences of the Revolution

There is no
space here to deal with the numerous works on the nature and consequences
of the American Revolution, or on the vitally important topic of
the relationship between the Revolution and the Constitution. Here
we will mention Gordon S. Wood’s careful and important study of
the way in which libertarian ideology was conservatized during and
especially after the Revolution: The Creation of the American
Republic, 1776–1787. Richard B. Morris has many judicious insights
in his The American Revolution Reconsidered. He treats
the American Revolution more fully as the first war of national
liberation and independence from European colonialism in his The
Emerging Nations and the American Revolution. Also see Richard
L. Park and Richard D. Lambert, eds., The American Revolution
Abroad.

Perhaps the
most important controversy was on how radical and how revolutionary
were the nature and consequences of the American Revolution. We
have seen Robert R. Palmer’s challenge to the consensus view in
his monumental The Age of the Democratic Revolution. J.
Franklin Jameson produced the classic Beardian view on the social
radicalism of the American Revolution in The American Revolution
Considered as a Social Movement. This thesis was attacked and
seemingly refuted during the Consensus period of American historiography,
particularly by Frederick B. Tolles, “The American Revolution Considered
as a Social Movement: A Reevaluation,” American Historical Review,
55 (1954–1955); and by Clarence Ver Steeg, “The American Revolution
Considered as an Economic Movement,” Huntington Library Quarterly,
20 (1957).

But Robert
A. Nisbet, in a brilliant article, has now rehabilitated the thesis
of the American Revolution as having radical consequences, not in
a Beardian, but in a libertarian direction. In his The Social
Impact of the Revolution, Nisbet shows that the Revolution
had a radical libertarian impact on American society: in abolishing
feudal land tenure, in establishing religious freedom, and in beginning
the process of the abolition of slavery. Thus, to Bailyn’s insight
on the libertarian sources of the Revolution, Nisbet adds his conclusion
on its libertarian consequences.

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Murray
N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was the author of Man,
Economy, and State
, Conceived
in Liberty
, What
Has Government Done to Our Money
, For
a New Liberty
, The
Case Against the Fed
, and many
other books and articles
. He was
also the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
.

Murray
Rothbard Archives

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