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TheCanadian Review of American Studies, Volume 12,No. 2, Fall 1981 TheRevolution After Two Hundred Years Dirk. Hoerder. CrowdAction in f!-evolutionary Massach.usetts, J'n5-I780. NewYork, San Francisco, London: Academic Press, 1977, J<)4 +xvipp. Elrzabeth P.McCaughey. From Loyalist to Foundint; Father: ThePolitical Oc~rsseyof William Samuel Johnson. New York: Columbia UniversityPress, 1980.362 + xi pp. Garv B.Nash.The Urban Crucible: Social Change, Political Con:sciousness and the Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.:Harvard University Press, 1979.548 + xv pp. Charles Royster. A Revolutionai:v People at War: The Continental A,mrandthe American Characte1; 1775-1783.Chapel Hill: Um\:ersity ofNorth Carolina Press, 1979.452 + xi pp. Ian Mugridge AsAmericans celebrated their nation's first centennial in 1876, they had beforethem George Bancroft's massive Histo,y of the United States, completedfiveyears before, to describe, in heroic terms, the story of American progresstowards independence. They could look at Bancroft's work and knowthat truly there were giants in the world in those days but that those giants weremerely the leaders of a proud and independent people dedicated tothe search for freedom and justice. Bancroft, in other words, portrayed thenation'sfounders as their heirs wanted them portrayed and depicted the revolutionas an inspiration to later generations. Since 1976, the people of theUnited States have been celebrating their second centennial; but the contributionof the historians to this event is almost such as to make one ask,where are you, George Bancroft, now that we need you? American historiography has advanced enormously in the last hundred years.The resources available to modern historians of the revolution and theirinvestigative techniques permit them to view their subject in a way whichis far more sophisticated and illuminating, to see the extreme complexity of the revolution and its antecedents. The predictable mass of writing on the revolution which has appeared in the last five years has hardly, however, contributed to the preservation of national myths, has scarcely toldthe American people that the nation was born in almost universal hope 200 Ian Mugridge and idealism. This change may be inevitable. From the point of viewofthe progress of the historian's art, it is undoubtedly good. But, whether weadmit it or not, most of us are at heart closet Whigs and should therefore pause occasionally to regret that Bancroft's view of the American past is no longer tenable. The four books which are the subject of this review together representa substantial contribution to the modern historiography of the American Revolution. It must be said at the outset, however, that, while they broaden and deepen our understanding of the revolution and what led up to it, thev are to a very large extent a confirmation and extension of earlier work.Th~ one exception to this is perhaps Ch.arles Royster's book on the Continental Army which, as will be indicated later, handles that subject and its relationship to the revolutionary movement as a whole in ways which are strikinglv original. But the rest, while making a major contribution to our thinkin~ on the revolution, frequently do so in ways which simply extend the workof others. It is many years, for example, since Carl Becker coined his aphorism that the revolution was not merely about home rule, but also about who should rule at home. Further, as Dirk Hoerder points out in his introduction - an extensive and excellent survey of concepts of crowd behavior and of the historiography of his subject-that his boo~ "takes up the argument cautiously and sympathetically advanced by Edmund S. Morgan, that the social, economic, and political interests of colonial groups were of great importance for decisions and actions during the revolutionary process and. for that matter, at any time" (p. 6). Other historians too, he notes, have stressed this aspect of the history of the revolution-Straughton Lynd and Alfred Young,for example-while Merrill Jensen emphasized the role of the people. It is perhaps merely a comment on how crowded is the field to say that works such as these are largely extensions of the work of others; but, ifthis is so, it is also true that my conclusion that at least three of them make substantial contributions is a high compliment. The exception is Elizabeth McCaughey's biography of William Samuel Johnson. The title indicates that the theme of the book is the transformation of a loyal colonial Englishman into an ardent American. It is a careful, com· petent and comprehensive biography of Johnson who has not hitherto been the subject of a major study. As it painstakingly covers Johnson's career in both America and England, the book offers insights into politics on both sides of the Atlantic. In April 1769, for example, Johnson wrote of the British ministry that they were "foolish men and unwise! Too obstinate to retract, too weak and irresolute to advance, they have chosen this insignificant middle measure of resolution-seeming to do something, yet really doing nothing, -which can only produce contempt" (p. 107). It is useful to have such obser· vations and to have, through Johnson's eyes, a perspective on pre-revolutionary America and England from a colonial based in London. TheRevolutionAfter Two Hundred Years 201 Thismaybe all, however, that one can say for this work. Johnson, a man fsenseandjudgment, a politician and academic of substance and influence, ~asalwaysbeen a somewhat shadowy figure in the history of the revolutionandthe national period; and this book regrettably does little or nothing to rescuehim from this obscurity. One begins to ask whether he was not reallv a person of very minor importance, impelled almost by accident into the~1iddle of great events on which he had little, if any, influence. The troubleis that Johnson emerges from this biography as a cardboard figure, gazing at the reader from a succession of portraits distributed through the iextso that we may watch him getting old; but the reader gains no feeling for,touse one of the overworked cliches of biography, what made William Samuel Johnson tick. If this had happened, we might have gained greater insight. not merely into Johnson himself, but also into his place in the history nfhiscountry. Ofthe three other books under consideration, Gary B.Nash's The Urban Crucible has the greatest compass. It is a discussion of the developmentsocial , economic and political-of the three port cities of Boston, New York andPhiladelphia between the last decade of the seventeenth century and the outbreakof the revolution. As he says in the preface, Nash's book is, above all."about the relationships between urban people who occupied different rungs on the social ladder" (p. x). The book emphasizes the concept of class, notin a fully developed modern sense but in a sense which was applicable totheemerging urban societies of eighteenth-century America and which provides a welcome antidote to "the persistent myth that class relations did notmatter in early America because there were no classes" (p. viii). Fromthis starting point, Nash surveys in comprehensive and penetrating fashionthe development of the three cities and the effects of this developmenton the revolution. By 1700, he notes, all three cities had become bustlingentrepots in which, as everywhere else, economic benefits were sharedunevenly by the population. By European standards, the distribution ofwealthwasgood and flexible; and "if the expectations of not every inhabitantof the port towns were not fairly met, there was at least a general sense thatlifewas fulfilling in the northern English colonies and that the future \\asbright" (p. 25). Further, a fairly unrestrictive franchise allowed wide participation in politics, with small areas and populations allowing close contactbetween rulers and ruled and often quick action on matters of con~ cern.Even though the framework of social deference still existed, "the contractualrelationship between rulers and ruled could be breached if the rulersacted irresponsibly. At these times, which occurred far more often thanis generally believed, deference quickly crumbled under the pressure ofanaroused populace" (p. 37). In the first forty years of the eighteenth century, these circumstances beganto change. The continuing cycle of war and depression had a serious 202 Ian Mugridge effect on the economies of the northern colonies and hence of the three port towns, particularly Boston which, during the years up to 1713,began a decline which was not to be arrested before the revolution. Thus, while New York and Philadelphia recovered during the first third of the centurv, a fact which had important repercussions for political activity in these citie~, "by 1740 it was apparent that Boston, the oldest and most ethnically homogeneous seaport in British America, was the commercial center of the least productive region on the eastern seaboard" (p. 127). Important political developments accompanied these economic problems. As summarized by Nash, the central fact of the period up to 1740wasthat. to a very large extent, the old concept of society broke down: "In allthe seaport towns the economic stress and social tensions of the l720sand 173Ossubjected the concept of an indivisible public good, or commonweal. to great pressure. The pressure, in fact, proved too great for the corporate ideology of a single harmonious community to withstand. Pursuit of the common good was evermore seen as a rhetorical cloak employed bythose who enjoyed elevated status and material wealth to hide their covert selfish interests" (p. 18).This breakdown of the idea of community was not, ofcourse. always noticed or admitted but it was nevertheless true that, by 1740.the people of the port towns had begun to act on the assumption that "competition had replaced consensus and in a competitive world people must look to their own self-preservation" (p. 156). In this manner the setting for the revolution was being established. After 1740, there beg;m a period of uncertainty for the inhabitants of the port towns, again particularly of Boston, where the economic, social, religious and political strains of the period were always more marked than in the other two. The fabric of society was increasingly stretched. The effects of the Great Awakening and of the wars of mid-century and their consequences produced increasing unrest and more people began to take part directly in the political process. Before the mid-sixties, political control never more than momentarily slipped awayfrom those at the top; but each disturbance had a cumulative effect as factional politics intensified and members of the lower classes began to act for themselves. Only when local conflicts intersected with imperial problems, howew. would the full significance of these developments become apparent. This occurred in 1765during the Stamp Act crisis: ''Only the economic buffeting suffered by the seaport towns after 1760 and the build-up of antagonisms on local issues can fully explain the extraordinary response to the Stamp Act." This situation also provides a key to understanding the politics of the revolu· tion: "the defiance of authority and destruction of property by city people from the lower social ranks redefined the dynamics of urban politics andset the stage for a ten-year internal struggle for political control among the varying social elements protesting English rule" (p. 292). TheRevolutionAfter Two Hundred Years 203 Thusdoes Nash build up his picture of the American Revolution, an event whichwas, he says, quoting Philip Greven, "like a powerful earthquake which ... erupted along the lines of the deep faults that had existed within colonialsociety for generations, even when they went unobserved and remainedinactive" (p. 340). The revolution was, in fact, a great deal more thana movement to achieve independence and republicanism. It was a profound socialupheaval, projecting into public life new groups whose influence hadnothitherto been great and challenging those who controlled American societywith new remedies for the social evils which many believed now characterizedthe life of the colonies. DirkHoerder's C,mvd Action in Revolutionary Massachusetts, 1765-1780 isin many ways complementary to Nash's work, for it provides a more detailedexamination of one aspect of Nash's broader subject. Hoerder "attempts to look at the role of the little people, their concepts and expectations " (p.6).In his initial survey, he describes two basic forms of crowd action incolonialMassachusetts: "norm enforcement in areas of conduct for which widespreadcommunity consensus existed and conflict resolution where group interests prevented consensual or amicable solutions within the institutionalprocesses " (p. 4). From this basis, he details the spread of antiBritish action from the beginning of the Stamp Act crisis and the continuationof crowd action in the early years of the revolution. In the early days, as Americans began to deal with the problems of opposing the Stamp Act, finding themselves in an unprecedented situation, '"thetraditional political concepts, the established institutions, and consequently the established leadership were found wanting. Who, then, acted to transfonnthe opposing resolves into action? Who ·enacted' the thought? Theleadership had to turn to the crowd, to those who had little or no direct access to instituional channels for obtaining redress from specific grievances. Direct action was their means when cumbersome legal processes seemed too slow, or the lawyers,' clerks,' and justices' fees too high; when institutional remedies had been exhausted or when no redress was to be expected from justices or representatives" (p. 90). From such a beginning, the tradition, the participationand the importance of the crowd in the revolution in Massachusettsseems to have grown almost inevitably for, as the work of Nash andothers confirms, crowd action in the mid-sixties was not new or even unusual. It is not possible, notes Hoerder, to hold "the view of crowd action assavageviolence [or] the view of the rioters as Whig-inspired agents of politics by other means .... The crowd had a tradition of its own, and interestsof its own" (pp. 109-10). The reactions to the Stamp Act in Massachusetts were a vital factor in thehistoryof the revolution. Not merely did the Act induce many colonials tore-thinkthe position of the colonies in the empire, but, and perhaps more important,opposition to the act also provided training in direct political 204 Ian Mugridge action for many people in Boston and outside and made clearer the diff. enc es ·between the traditional leaders and their new, rather unwelco er allies, the crowds. This process continued into the late sixties as, beoinn:~ from a policy of "no mobs," the Boston leaders found that they neededth; crowds to make clear and effective their opposition to the agents of the British government. By 1770, the Whig leaders, finding themselves unable toact without the crowds, had been obliged to place increasing reliance onthem. only to discover that the crowds could and did act on their own. The result. after 1768, was the replacement of moderate leadership in town and merchant meetings with leaders who were "more responsive to popular demands:· Early on, old habits of deference were still strong, were indeed ''preventin~ the lower classes not from acting consciously and openly as a separate group. but from doing so continuously on a sufficiently high level to influencedm· to-day political decision making." After the anti-impressment riot ofJu~e 1768, and the anti-troop riots of March 1770, "the hard-hit lower classe, asserted their interests and position" (p. 242). These traditions, formed before and during the 1760s, continued into the revolutionary period itself as"the people in crowds and in town meetings demanded a new foundation tor society and its political structures" while their leaders "wanted to preserve the old system and therefore resented constitutional debates" (p. 378). In this struggle, however, the lower classes of Boston and Massachusetts in general failed so that, during the revolution, those who had traditionally held power in the colony managed, with few real changes, to hang ontoit. In the preface to his book, A Revolutiona,y People at Ww; Charles Royster indicates that one of his central questions is "what was the relationship between the ideals espoused during the revolution and the actions of Americans '?'' (p. viii). It is interesting to note, in the context of my first para· graph, that Royster is the only one of the four authors who specificall~ discusses revolutionary ideals. His discussion concerns the Continental Army, the most public arm of revolution in the struggle against the British. and its relationship to the ideological basis for the revolution. The "trialo! national character was the central theme in the Americans' discussiono[ the Continental Army's role 1n the winning of the revolution. Proponents of independence argued that the future of American liberty depended first on winning the war and second on how the war was won. Liberty could survive, many Americans believed, only if the people showed themselvesto be worthy defenders of it. To make independence secure, these revolution· aries contended, vigorous ideals of national character and civil policy must be realized in the victory" (p. 3). From this point of view the American fight for independence would succeed if its defenders possessed the strength which came from patriotism and concern for their posterity, from benevolence, disinterestedness and virtue, and from the approval of God for what they did. The Continental TheRevolution After Two Hundred Years 205 Army,of course, was in the forefront of the struggle and ought to possess theseadmirable qualities to a higher degree than other revolutionaries. Thisfeeling, together with the long standing American (and British) suspicionof standing armies and of the brutalized professional soldier, led to remarkable variations in the attitude of civilians toward the army which defendedthem against their British oppressors and to a support which was frequentlyequivocal at best. Usually, the army was regarded as a group of citizensoldiers led by citizen generals who ''were expected to perform miraclesby force of personality alone" (p. 46). The war began with strong support for the army, but "by the end of the firstyear of hostilities, the Continental Army had begun to develop the character that it retained throughout the war." The trouble was that the·:A.rmy grew more like other armies than the popular rage militaire of 1775. Somerecurring elements of the soldiers' conduct violated the ideals that the Continental Army was suposed to promote" (p. 96). As this situation continued,as Baron Steuben and General Washington increasingly bound thearmytogether into a disciplined and efficient fighting force which looked moreand more like a professional army, the ambivalent attitude of the civilians remained: "If they had to use soldiers, they wanted to believe that thosesoldiers' strengths exemplified the people's strengths and that the soldiers· victories were also citizens' victories. The success of the revolution wouldthen be a popular triumph, not the work of a professional hierarchy" /pp.150-51). Frequently, however, it was clear that, while the gap between theideals and the conduct of the revolutionaries was often narrowest in thearmy,it was also true that, with equal or greater frequency, this gap was widerin the army than elsewhere. As the war went on, as factionalism becamemore prevalent, as the likelihood of quick victory became less, thepublic reaction took the form of growing criticism of the army. This wasthe situation as Washington took his men into winter quarters at Valley Forge. Butthe frightful experience of the winter of 1778wrought an important change inthe army: "For the soldiers who stayed the most significant creation ofthe ValleyForge winter was a self-conscious professionalism ... a unique attitudetoward service in the army-an attitude based on a definition of beinga soldier that satisfied men who wanted to be good ones, but only foras long as the war required" (pp. 196-97). The work of Steuben and Washington,"the central figure in the army's survival and in the American victory"(p. 258), produced an army which, in the end, could survive the conflictwith the British, could even s~rvive the neglect of its friends and themutinieswithin its own ranks. For "mutiny could not attract most soldiers anddid not succeed partly because it had no ideal" (p. 307). Nevertheless,by 1781, "the record of public neglect left little doubt among soldiersor the advocates of strong central government that only virtuous 206 Ian Mug,idgi: perseverance of a few had won the war in spite of the selfishness ofmosi revolutionaries." This attitude was, however, in clear contrast to the celebrations of the defeat of Cornwallis which "left little doubt that the army'svictol'\ represented the public's successful resistance to tyranny." This feelingremained until the end of the war as "the revolutionaries repudiated the symbolic indebtedness and tried to reclaim their patriotic prowess" (p. 329).Asthis happened, as the nation was divided by quarrels over soldiers' pay,as proposals for a standing militia were rejected, as the pretentions of the Cincinnati were derided, "the popular interpretation of victory ... restored the citizens totheir original and vital stature as the pillars of America's future glory" (p.360,. Royster's book thus examines the relationship between the continuing idealism of the revolution and the major groups who took part in it.Amon~ both civilians and military, the stress of war and privation placed greatstrain~ on this idealism but it remained, at least in a rhetorical sense, the cement which bound Americans together, which gave them the fortitude to cam through the enterprise they had begun. The vicissitudes of a long struggl~ bred division and rancor but, shored up by the almost superhuman efforts of a few great men, the embodiments, particularly in the case of Washington. of the qualities the revolutionaries liked to think of as their own, helped the revolution to succeed and gave the revolutionaries their best hopefor the preservation of the new nation. Much of what Royster says is a continuation of the work of such scholars as John Shy who have begun to look at the war and the army which fought it in much the same terms. But Royster goes beyond other writers inpro· viding us with a subtle and illuminating discussion of the role and the development of the army as the vehicle of victory and the repository of national honor. He shows us the process by which the military and political leaders of the revolution were educated in the realities of politics, even in a nation which began with the high ideals espoused by the revolutionaries, andgiws us a striking picture of the lasting fascination and value of these high ideals for the revolutionary and national period, a value which may, as Royster states it, have often been merely rhetorical and even fraudulent but which still seemed paramount to the revolutionary generation and to their heirs in the development of the new nation. That this picture should emerge from a revolution which we must nowsee in the terms set out by Nash and Hoerder is, of course, hardly surprising. To both these authors as to the majority of the new historians of the period. to see the revolution in Bancroftian terms seems. to be virtually irrelevant. Nash nods only once in the direction of revolutionary idealism when henote~ that it is clearly true that the revolution was a struggle for independence and republicanism but that the earlier emphasis on this alone was misleading and simplistic. What Nash and Hoerder give us, however, is a picture which virtually excludes those features. TheRevolution After Two Hundred Years 207 Nash's book is a very fine piece of examination and exposition. He shows, clearly and in ways which have not before been attempted, the extraordinary complexity of developments in the three port towns in the eighty or so years before the outbreak of the revolution. He weaves together the threads of the st1eial. economic, religious and political developments in the towns to demonstratehis contention that the revolution, the 1 form it took and the i~sues over which it was. fought, can be understood only in the context of theinternalcolonial developments of the eighteenth century. It is a masterly pieceof work. Ona much smaller scale, Hoerder examines the activities of the crowds inMassachusetts from the Stamp Act crisis on. Nash quotes him a couple L,ftimes and clearly the two hooks are. to a very large extent, complementary . The early sections of Hoerder's work. for example. are much more eastlv and fullycomprehended if one has read Nash first: the importance of crui;daction in the 1760s is a logical outcome of the developments Nash describes.Hoerder shows more clearly than hitherto the organization, the developmentand the importance of the crowds not merely in Boston but alsoin Massachusetts. His prose is sometimes rather opaque, obscuring ratherthan clarifying some of his points: but this is still a very valuable contributionto our understanding of the revolution in Massachusetts. Hence,it is not enough to say, as I did at the beginning. that these works aremerelyextensions of the work of others. They are, of course: they could notexist without the work of those mentioned earlier or such others as PaulineMaier, Richard M. Brown and Jesse Lemisch. But they are far morethan this. for they all add a great deal to the historiography of the revolution.What they do not do. with the exception of Charles Royster. is wexaminethe men and the movements they discuss in the context of the revolution's ideological base and of the Americans· view of what they themselves weredoing. It may be true that the American Revolution was. in many importantsenses. not a revolution at all. that many of the vital issues had little or nothing to do with George III and his succession of bungling ministers. Butiswas also a struggle for specific. stated and exalted ideals. One hopes thatthis truth will not become lost in the attempt to explain other aspects ofthe revolution. ...


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