While reading particulars of the American Revolution, I never thought much about the consciousness of ordinary Americans. The story of named Americans has been well told, but the men, families and small communities have been silent or neglected. Yet, today Americans can learn that revolutionary ardor and fervor was as strong, steadfast and certain in small places than that shown by Franklin, Adams and Jefferson.
These revelations come in T.H. Breen, American Insurgents, American Patriots, Hill and Wang, NY, 2010. Accompanying that history is an earlier one by Breen, The Marketplace of Revolution, Oxford, NY, 2001. The second book describes the economic forces Americans used against British merchants, and the organizations from 1765 to the start of the War. Insurgents drops to a personal level telling how people used social, political and economic pressure to support the accepted policy. Tories resisted but not for long; families and communities could be tainted by favoring British products, ways or ideas. By 1776 after the shooting began and before independence Americans had rid themselves of unwanted British ways. Indeed, in New Hampshire the British were forced to leave by January, 1775.
The idea of revolution supported by an outside oppressive force used a promise of future liberty, and an incorruptible government causing Americans to act or to rebel. It was not spontaneous or impulsive. It took ten years of work before 1775. The outside force never departed and insisted upon more coercive measures.
Seldom in American history have people gone to war with a single, simple goal: Britain should change the way it governs us. A year later the British had not acted, and the Americans change the way they were to be governed. Americans would have their own country.
Great movements in American history have not been as efficient or used war as the primary means to achieve all its tasks: Abolition (1830 – 1865); Prohibition (@1870-1934); Women’s Vote (1869-1919); Civil Rights (1946-1969). These prolonged issues over decades did not remain constant in goals or methods. Many of these movements had elements of impulse and spontaneity where individuals tried to capture the public’s attention. Many of them made small piles of money but contributed little to the final effort.
On the other hand, Breen has shown American revolutionaries proceeded methodically, taking each step as it came and rarely jumping ahead. The logical approach is required by proponents and supporters while they are taking abuse. Occasionally, named leaders found themselves a step behind the crowds and organizations at home. They quickly made the step. The steps are a logical progression without which Independence would have failed.