A People's History
of the American Revolution

Page Smith

[Excerpts from Volume One, A New Age Now Begins, published by McGraw-Hill in 1976]


A New World / 1

…I have tried to convey a sense of the remarkable diversity represented in [the founding of the principal colonies]. A number of human varieties and social forms, some as old as England itself, others as new as the new commercial and mercantile spirit of the age, were planted in the virgin soil of the New World. There they would grow luxuriantly, each in its particular way, in a vegetative mold made up of new ideas and opportunities. …Perhaps it was this vision of a new world and a new opportunity that ran as a common theme through all the colonies. North or south, all reverberated to that grand chord, a silken thread that tied them all together and that, in time, would become a mighty rope. [p.27]

Who Came / 2

And then there were the Irish. They were a special case. They fled famine and rent-wracking landlords. … [p.29]

Hugh Jones, in The Present State of Virginia, published in 1724, put the matter succinctly: …America had received, for the most part, "the servants and inferior sort of people, who have either been sent over to Virginia, or have transported themselves thither, have been, and are, the poorest, idlest, and worst of mankind, the refuse of Great Britain and Ireland, and the outcast of the people." [p. 33]

Whether wickedly abused or treasured and rewarded - and certainly they experienced both cruelty and kindness - indentured servants made up more than half the immigrants to the middle and southern colonies. During the twenty-five-year period between 1750 and 1775, some 25,000 servants and convicts entered Maryland, and a comparable number arrived in Virginia. P.[p. 36]

A total of thirty thousand convicted felons were shipped from England in the fifty-year period prior to the Revolution, of whom the greater number apparently went to Maryland and Virginia. [p. 38]

Hardy, enterprising Calvinists, they made their way in large numbers westward, where land was plentiful and cheap. There, serving as "the guardians of the frontier," they were constantly embroiled with eastern land speculators or various Indian tribes over ownership of land. [p.44]

Legacy of Liberty / 3

If he did not thereby lay the foundations for English America … [James] for a certainty provided the colonies with a company of settlers who, by transplanting that Puritanism that so enraged the kind to the New World, determined the character, temper, consciousness - call it what you will - of that New World more conclusively than any other body of people who came to the English colonies. [p. 49]

The historian George Trevelyan calls the lengthy session that followed "the true turning-point in the political history of the English-speaking races. It not only prevented the English monarchy from hardening into an absolutism of the type then becoming general in Europe, but it made a great experiment in direct rule of the country and of the Empire by the House of Commons." [p. 53]

Charles was captured once more, tried before a high court of sixty-seven members appointed by an abbreviated Parliament, sentenced to death, and beheaded at Whitehall on January 30, 1649. for the next eleven years England lived under the Commonwealth, a nominally republican form of government that was actually largely under the control of Cromwell, who in 1653 took effective power as lord protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland under a written constitution called the "Instrument of Government," which gave Cromwell essentially dictatorial powers. [p. 55]

The leader of the Diggers, Gerrard Winstanley, challenged the parliamentary leaders and roundheads with doctrines too radical for them to consider. "What stock," he asked, "is provided for the poor, fatherless, widows, and impoverished people? And what advancement of encouragement for the laboring and industrious, as to take off their burthens, is there?" Another Digger wrote, "England is not a Free People, till the Poor that have no Land, have a free allowance to dig and labour the Commons." …Winstanley went to far as to argue that the earth should be made a "common Treasury of livelihood to whole mankind, without respect to persons." [p. 55]

Inevitably, many of the Leveler pamphlets and the ideas they espoused found their way to America, where they fell like seeds in a welcoming soil. Milton's works, which relentlessly championed freedom in every area of man's social and political life, became as familiar as the Bible and John Bunyan to colonists of the Protestant persuasion - Congregationists, Presbyterians, Quakers, and Baptists alike. It is difficult to convey the intensity of attention with which the colonists attempted to follow the bewildering course of events in the mother country. [p. 56]

Moreover, with the Restoration a spirit developed in England quite hostile to the colonies. In the mother country Anglicanism and aristocracy once more suppressed Puritanism and incipient democracy. Correspondingly, the colonies, so far as they manifested a leveling and democratic temper, served to remind Englishmen of events they would have preferred to forget. There was widespread disquiet among dissenters in the colonies as well as in England over the severity of the Cavalier Parliament's Clarendon Code, four statutes directed against religious nonconformists. [p. 57]

All the democratic ferment that seemed to fade so rapidly in England persisted in America and entered into the consciousness of many of those colonists who would have been called dissenters had they remained in England. [p. 59]

Moreover, the political instability of the mother country was a powerful incentive to emigration in the days when being out of power often meant losing one's head in the bargain. So the English colonies grew greatly in numbers during that tumultuous century, and they learned, perhaps better than the British themselves, whatever lessons the events of that era were capable of teaching to attentive students on the other side of the Atlantic. [p. 59]

New England and the Middle Colonies / 4

In that attentiveness to the worth and quality of things, and to the relation between things and services … was to be found the secret of the community that became an essential building block of the nation. [p. 64]

Dr. Alexander Hamilton also noted the "democratick" nature of the government, adding, "They have but little regard to the laws of England, their mother country, tho they pretend to take that constitution for a precedent." The customs officials and royal officers in Rhode Island were "ciphers." "They dare not exercise their office for fear of the fury and unruliness of the people. …" On the other hand they profited from generous bribes for looking the other way when illicit cargoes entered their ports. [p. 71]

The community supported and sustained the family, verified and reinforced its values, provided the essential context in which this new breed, so strangely compounded of fanaticism (or perhaps, more gently, zeal) and democracy, grew and flourished. The Puritan made the town, and the town made the Puritan. The Puritan was, at one and the same time, the most sturdily independent of characters and the most profoundly oriented toward the community. There was no tyrant like the community, and yet, paradoxically (that word so necessary to the historian), the community, so demanding in its orthodoxy, produced that classic figure of independent individualism, the New England Yankee. Individual and community: community and individual - in that mysterious balance, that alteration, lay the answer to the riddle of the Puritan character. [pp. 74-75]

Rensselaerwyck had several thousand tenants, and the patron, like a feudal baron, told Hamilton "he could muster 600 men fit to bear arms." The patrons had their own courts, in which they dispensed justice for minor infractions; they collected a series of feudal dues and rents from tenants who were more like medieval serfs than free men. The patroonships were an anomaly in eighteenth-century colonial America, where the citizens of Massachusetts and Rhode Island enjoyed more extensive political rights than any citizens in the world. The patroonship was certainly an anachronism in the colony of New York, with its enterprising merchant class that so well represented the commercial spirit of the new age. The tenants of the patrons had risen up in rebellion on several occasions, but without materially improving their situation. [p. 76]

…it could be said that if the Quakers took in their charge the keeping of the consciences of their fellow citizens, the keeper of the Quakers' conscience was John Woolman, …Woolman's compassion and sympathy were directed toward the freeing of black men and women held as slaves by his fellow members of the Society of Friends. Conquering his coreligionists, he made many of them, in turn, advocates of the antislavery cause. [p.81]

The Southern Colonies / 5

…few if any members of the British aristocracy came to Virginia or any other colony. Prosperous and ambitious tradesmen and craftsmen like the original William Byrd came, as did some substantial immigrants of the middle rank who wished to improve their situation in life or ape the manners of the upper classes. A few of the minor gentry also came, looking for greener pastures and cheap land. [p. 85]

The Virginians engaged in no manufacturing of any kind, although raw materials were plentiful. All they did … was raise tobacco, and "as they can get anything they need for this commodity they become so lazy that they send to England for clothes, linen, hats, women's dresses, shoes, iron tools, nails, and even wooden furniture, (although their own wood is very fine to work on and they have loads of it) such as tables, chairs, bedsteads, chests, wardrobes." [p. 86]

Not a tenth of the land was cultivated, "and that which is cultivated," [Reverend Andrew Burnaby] wrote, "is far from being so in the most advantageous manner." [p. 89]

In the old country, a man's life and labor were spent on land that was not his own, and therein lay the basis of all his various dependences. He was dependent for his bread and for that of his wife and children on the good will of the landlord. If he grew restive or openly rebellious, if he stepped out of line, he was stigmatized as "a rude, rough fellow" with ideas above his station, and the society mustered all its agents and agencies to put him down again. [p. 92]

So to "live independent" was to live transformed from an underling to someone who could stand on his own two fee and insist on a proper regard for his rights, who owned the land he farmed, made the bread that fed his own, and owed no one for the livelihood. Secure in his modest holdings, aware of his rights as an Englishman, hardy and self-reliant, this independent farmer was the sort of citizen of which a free and independent nation might in time be built. [p. 92]

"The public or political character of the Virginians corresponds," he wrote, "with their private one; they are haughty and jealous of their liberties, impatient of restraint, and can scarcely bear the thought of being controlled by any superior power [italics mine]. Many of them consider the colonies as independent states, not connected with Great Britain, otherwise than by having the same common king, and being bound to her by natural affection." [p. 93]

Aristocracy, whether in ancient Greece or Renaissance Florence, England or Virginia, seems to be the form of social organization that is most fecund for men of unusual gifts. Along with a large number of amiable fools and effete snobs, an aristocracy can also produce a significant proportion of men of the highest capacity; equally important, it is quick to patronize the unusually gifted in lower social orders and give them scope and encouragement for the exercise of their special talents. The democratic spirit, on the other hand, is commonly, as Alexis de Tocqueville and others have noticed, jealous of excellence and assiduous in trying to reduce everyone to a common level. [p. 94]

From the frontier counties of the more settled colonies - Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia - families moved south looking for cheaper land and more fertile soil. Those who were restless, discontented, dissenting, or simply adventurous made their way in substantial numbers to North Carolina, where the absence of a great landed aristocracy or an established commercial class produced a liberal and democratic atmosphere much to these restless settlers' taste. [p. 94]

North Carolina is hard to characterize. Yet it was by no means a nonentity. Without great figures or brilliant leaders, it represented, better in fact than Virginia, the ideal of the yeoman farmer: the small, independent landowner who tended his acres and was jealous of his rights. North Carolinians would have doubtless been more at home in New England than sandwiched between Virginia and South Carolina. [p. 95]

In the backcountry, alienated white settlers had the same grievances against the colonial rulers as the residents of Charles Town had, in turn, against Great Britain: taxation without representation, manipulation of the law, selfishness, and callous disregard of the rights and needs of the frontier. The Revolution, when it came, seemed less a fight for freedom than an effort of the seacoast aristocracy to protect its own narrow interests, interests that frequently were quite at odds with the interests of the inhabitants of the interior country. [pp. 97-98]

Precisely those qualities that made it virtually impossible for the black slave to accommodate himself to white society made him most valuable doing the simple if arduous work of a field hand. His distinctive appearance made him easy to identify; his inability to shift for himself in the world beyond the plantation bound him to his master, who provided food, clothing, and even, in a degree, protection. [p. 103]

For a people who were engaged in a struggle not only for their own liberties and rights as Englishmen but for, as they so often said, the universal rights of man, the anomaly of black servitude in their own household was a grim reminder of the compromised nature of all human aspirations. [p. 105]

Indians and Settlers / 6

The Reformation, which made its adherents into "individuals," also made them hopelessly alien to a people who still lived in a tribal consciousness. [p. 113]

Observing the Indians, who "have few but natural wants and those easily supplied," Benjamin Franklin was inclined to propose a whole new theory of human development. If man could be so content in a state of nature, he asked himself, how had civilization ever arisen? It must have been as a consequence of a condition of scarcity, where some peoples, driven from lands that afforded an easy living, were forced to create a more complex and varied economic and social life. Franklin wrote to a friend: "They are not deficient in natural understanding and yet they have never shown any inclination to change their manner of life for ours, or to learn any of our Arts." [pp. 113-114]

"They think," [Reverend John Heckewelder] wrote, "that [God] made the earth and all it contains for the common good of mankind … it was not for the benefit of a few, but of all. Every thing was given in common to the sons of man. Whatever liveth on the land, whatsoever groweth out of the earth, and all that is in the rivers and waters flowing through the same, was given jointly to all, and every one is entitled to his share. From this principle, hospitality flows as from its source. …They give and are hospitable to all, without exception, and will always share with each other and often with a stranger, even to their last morsel."

"Yours" and "mine," "ours," "his," "hers," were not the determinative words for the Indians that they were for the white man. The Indian did not think that the land was "his" in the sense that the white man insisted that it was his property. The whole notion of buying and selling land was so alien to the Indian that while he could understand driving an enemy off a hunting range or general territory, he had no notion of marking off a specific area as belonging in perpetuity to some individual tribe, and certainly not to an individual Indian. [p. 116]

Common Grievances and Common Dangers / 7

Diversity in unity is one of the major themes in American history; certainly it is the essence of the idea of a federal union. [p. 120]

It was doubtless Washington's thoroughness and attention to detail that assured his scouts of a few moments' advantage in spotting the enemy. [p. 124]

Some historians have agreed with Bedford and Choiseul that the British retention of Canada was the key factor in bringing on the American Revolution. In the absence of the threat from the French and their Indian allies, so the argument goes, the colonies were emboldened to resist unpopular measures of the British ministry. [p. 129]

The perpetual menace of Catholic New France was removed. For frontiersmen, the Indian problem was reduced to manageable proportions. And once the common dangers were removed, common grievances could assert their primacy. Further, the colonists, as a consequence of their contributions to the victory, modest as these were in British eyes, felt a greatly increased boldness and self-confidence. [p. 130]

…John Adams … wrote to a friend in 1756 reflecting on the rise and fall of civilizations. History recorded a number of nations that had risen "from contemptible beginnings" to spread their influence "till the whole globe is subjected to their sway." "When," he continued, "they have reached the summit of grandeur, some minute and unsuspected cause commonly effects their run, and the empire of the world is transferred to some other place." So it had been with Rome, and so in time it might well be with England, presently "the greatest nation upon the globe." Some years back England had lost a small and, for the most part, inconspicuous number of its citizens, for reasons of conscience, to an untamed wilderness. "This apparently trivial incident," Adams wrote, "may transfer the great seat of [power] into America." With the threat of French Canada removed, the colonies within one hundred years would have a greater population than the mother country, Adams pointed out. The only way for Great Britain "to keep up from setting up for ourselves is to disunite us. Divide et imipera. Keep us in distinct colonies, and, then, some great men in each colony, desiring the monarchy of the whole, they will destroy each other's influence and keep the country in equilibrio. [p. 131]

Mercantilism / 8

In essence, mercantilist theory held that the interests of any colony should be entirely subordinated to those of the mother country. Colonies were weapons in the continuing trade warfare between nations. As England applied the principles of mercantilism to her colonies, they were designed to give her a favorable balance of trade (thus insuring an inflow of gold), and to develop her merchant marine as the primary means of commercial supremacy and as the foundation of a strengthened navy. [p. 134]

The colonials remained unimpressed. They saw plainly enough that their interests were invariably subordinated to those of English merchants who, form the American perspective, seemed greedy and rapacious. [p. 136]

Smuggling was endemic - and quite easy, because law enforcement was lax. Parliament wished to squeeze maximum profit from colonial trade but did not bother to see that its statutes were obeyed. Since trade profits went largely into private hands and the return to the royal exchequer was relatively modest, it seemed dubious policy to expend large sums to employ sufficient customs officials to prevent smuggling and other infractions on the Navigation Acts. [p. 136]

The board [of Trade] was so inefficient and so clogged with work through much of its existence that important correspondence sometimes lay unread for a year or so; it might take several years for a colonial governor or assembly to receive an answer to a query or a request. As a result of this inefficiency, the board's existence encouraged the growth of an independent spirit in the colonies. [p. 138]

Mercantilist policy can be summed up as a patchwork of restrictive laws conceived in a spirit of arrogance and administered with an inefficiency that invited evasion. One example perhaps best indicates the effect of this highhanded bungling: the chaotic state of the currency. All trade in the colonies was hampered by the lack of a reliable medium of exchange. In the absence of minted coins of established value, the estimation of the worth of the jumble of currencies that circulated was an art in itself, and one that added a good deal to the economic instability of the colonies. [pp. 140-141]

The most popular scheme was that of a land bank that would issue currency upon land as security. But seacoast merchants and Crown officials were generally united in opposition to all land-bank proposals, and the currency problem persisted as a symbol of British indifference to colonial needs and a constant if minor source of irritation to most Americans. [p. 141]

The Delights of the Homeland / 9

As the center of a Scottish renaissance, Edinburgh had a faculty that, in the opinion of Benjamin Franklin, was "a set of as truly great Professors of the several branches of knowledge, as have ever appeared in any age or County. [p. 144]

As Presbyterianism grew stronger in the colonies, Scotland came to be regarded by many colonists as their true homeland. [p. 144]

"What then is the American, this New Man?" / 10

"…Luther and Calvin invented the individual, and it was just such individuals - secure in their relationship to God and confident of their own powers - who dared to stand up for their rights as Americans when they felt that the mother country was infringing on those rights. Further, this new individual in turn could establish not only new religious sects and new congregations, but also new businesses, new financial enterprises, entire new communities, and even new ways of conceiving of the relation of individuals to one another - new ways, that is, of designing political and constitutional arrangements. [p. 154]

The Reformation left its mark on every aspect of the personal and social life of the faithful. In the family, in education, in business activity, in work, in the community, and ultimately in politics, the consequences of the Reformation were determinative for American history. [p. 157]


The Revenue Act / 1

George Washington's comments on the Proclamation Line are revealing. He wrote to a fellow land speculator, William Crawford: "I can never look upon that Proclamation in any other light (but this I say between ourselves) than as a temporary expedient to quiet the Minds of the Indians and must fail of course in a few years especially when those Indians are consenting to our Occupying the Lands. Any person who therefore neglects the present opportunity of hunting out good Lands and in some measure marking and distinguishing them for his own … will never regain it. …" [p. 167]

…a number of great land ventures were undertaken in the years prior to the outbreak of the Revolution; not a few men of wealth and substance on both sides of the Atlantic were engaged in American land speculation. [p. 168]

Speculators (including Washington) formed companies to buy tracts of land numbering in the millions of acres, undertaking at the same time to extinguish the Indians' claims by treaty purchase. [p. 168]

For Rhode Island, considered a next of smugglers by the British, the Sugar Act was especially severe. A resident of Providence pointed out the implications for that colony. Rhode Island imported well over a million gallons of molasses a year. A duty of three pence a gallon would produce a revenue in excess of fourteen thousand pounds a year. This was more hard money, one pamphleteer wrote, " that was ever in [the colony] at one time: this money is to be sent away, and never to return; yet the payment is to be repeated every year. …Can this possibly be done? …There is surely no man in his right mind believes this possible." [p. 174]

James Otis and the Beginnings of Resistance / 2

…when word of the Sugar Act reached the colonies, Otis was already armed with legal and constitutional arguments against it. A town meeting was called in Boston, and there James Otis presented his Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved. His speech was an extension of his earlier objections to the writs of assistance, but here Otis mustered most of the arguments that were to be used by colonial publicists and pamphleteers in the decade prior to the outbreak of the Revolution. [p. 180]

The principle that Otis enunciated was so powerful an idea that it came, eventually, to be embodied in the Supreme Court of the United States, which was specifically charged with checking Congress when that body should pass legislation that contravened, primarily, the natural law as incorporated in the first ten amendments to the Federal Constitution. [p. 182]

To some Englishmen the Americans wee "scum or off scourings of all the nations," a "hotch potch medley of foreign enthusiastic madmen," "a mongrel breed of Irish, Scotch and Germans leavened with convicts and outcasts. [p. 186]

The Stamp Act / 3

Colonel Isaac Barre was a veteran of the French and Indian War who had fought under General Wolfe and had been with him at the time of his death on the Plains of Abraham. …Barre was a fearless and effective spokesman for the colonial cause and a bete noire to George III. He immediately rose to challenge Townshend's description of the colonies. "They planted by your care?" he said scornfully. "No, your oppressions planted them in America. They fled from your tyranny to a then incultivated and unhospitable country - where they exosed themselves to almost all the hardships of which human nature is liable, and maong others to the cruelty of a save foe. …And yet actuated by principles of true English liberty, they met all hardships with pleasure, compared with those they suffered in their own country, from the hands of those who should have been their friends.

"They nourished by your indulgence? They grew by your neglect of em: as soon as you began to care about em, that care was exercised in sending persons to rule over em, in one department and another, who were perhaps the deputies of deputies to some member of this House - sent to spy out their liberty, to misrepresent their actions, and to prey upon em; men whose behavior on many occasions has caused the blood of those sons of liberty to recoil with them. …

"They protected by your arms? They have nobly taken up arms in your defence, have exerted a valor amidst their constant and laborious industry for the defence of a country whose frontier was drenched in blood. Its interior parts have yielded all its little savings to your emolument. And believe me, remember I this day told you so, that same spirit of freedom which actuated that people at first will accompany them still - But prudence forbids me to explain myself further. God knows I do not at this time speak from motives of party heat; what I deliver are the genuine sentiments of my heart." [p. 192]

In Boston, the Sons of Liberty (formerly the Loyal Nine) began to lay plans for organized protest. The group was originally made up of substantial craftsmen, artisans, and small businessmen. So far as it is possible to tell, it grew up quite spontaneously, and there is no evidence that it was a tool of radical patriots like James Otis and Samuel Adams, or, conversely, of merchants still smarting from the Sugar Act and alarmed by a measure with dangerous implications for all colonial trade. [p. 195]

The Riots / 4

In all of the colonies, a particular resentment was directed against those Americans, who … had been appointed or were rumored to have been appointed as stamp distributors. Some of the new appointees, like Pennsylvania's Ben Franklin and Virginia's Henry Lee, were good patriots and enemies of Parliamentary taxation. They had opposed the Stamp Act, but when its passage appeared inevitable they had applied for distributorships, doubtless on the ground that if profits were to be made from the sale of the stamps, it was better for them to be made by good patriots. [p. 208]

If it is clear that from the beginning some leading citizens joined in with the mass of demonstrators, most often they were the voices of moderation who interceded at some critical moment to try to prevent the more destructive acts of the mob. It may well have been that on occasion they tried to direct the anger of the demonstrators toward targets that were of special interest to them. It seems clear that, on the whole, their influence was on the side of discouraging the worst sorts of violence whenever possible, and it may have been due largely to their presence and periodic intervention that no royal official, however abused and reviled, lost his life. [p. 213]

…the colonial riots that may be said to have begun with the Stamp Act marked a new era in this familiar form of social protest. They were, at least retrospectively, revolutionary and ideological. They were more often planned than spontaneous; they were, to be sure, directed to the redress of particular grievances but they frequently looked beyond that to a radical alteration in the relationship between the mother country and her colonies. If the change seemed to the colonists simply a matter of preserving existing liberties from encroachment, to the British it seemed genuinely revolutionary. The relationship that the colonists wished was, to most Englishmen, unimaginable, unconstitutional, and, in that fine, eighteenth-century word, chimerical. [p. 213]

In an essay called "Considerations on the Propriety of imposing Taxes in the British Colonies, for the Purpose of Raising a Revenue," [Maryland planter and lawyer, Daniel] Dulany attacked the concept of virtual representation as "a mere cobweb, spread to catch the unwary, and intangible the weak." [p. 215]

In effect, Dulany and other colonial writers were saying to Parliament: "Having placed limits on the powers of the Crown in order to free yourselves, and by proxy every Englishman, from the exercise of arbitrary power, you must now do the same for us. You must voluntarily forego some of those absolute powers that you hold, and agree to limit yourselves to actions consistent with the tradition of English rights and liberties, of which you have been, in better times, the champions and defenders. We must know where we stand. What is intolerable to us is just this feeling that was once intolerable to you; a feeling that there is no check or limit on the actions that you can take that will affect our lives and property." [pp. 215-216]

To a James Otis or a Daniel Dulany, England was a second home, the most powerful and enlightened nation in the world, enhanced by fond memories of their visits. But to a Philadelphia wheelwright or cordwainer, Great Britain undoubtedly seemed an infinitely dim and remote reality to which it was difficult to relate. [p. 217]

Studies of the nature of political protest have by now made clear what thoughtful observers of history have known for a long time - that public opinion cannot be manipulated unless it exists. And this is as true of the Revolution as of any other event in American History. [p. 218]

The Stamp Act Congress / 5

The convening of the Stamp Act Congress was certainly one of the most significant episodes in the history of the colonial resistance to the authority of Parliament and the Crown. That fact, in turn, makes the Congress one of the most important bodies in the development of modern political institutions. [p. 219]

There is a good deal of evidence that most patriot leaders - almost all substantial members of the upper and middle classes - were dismayed at the destructiveness of the populace or, more plainly, the lower classes. [p. 221]

America In Rebellion / 6

Revolutions are not usually remarkable for their tolerance of dissent, and the American Revolution was in this regard, no different from others. [p. 231]

…those merchants whose ships, without stamps, lay idle in port, or sailed with unstamped cargoes on uncertain voyages, stood to lose large sums, or indeed their entire fortunes; the greater part of their wealth, in the absence of banks of deposit, was tied up in ships and cargoes, so that even very rich merchants had little liquid capital except that which floated or the molasses or rum that lay in the holds of their vessels. [p. 232]

What the Stamp Act doubtless would have done was, by draining off a good part of the precious specie or hard money that circulated in the colonies, to make trade and commerce even more difficult and awkward than it had been prior to the act, but it is hard to believe that colonial ingenuity would not have found a way to cope with this problem, as it had with all others that imposed constraints on colonial commercial activity. [p. 233]

Parliament's Battle Over Repeal / 7

William Pitt, responding to Grenville: "The gentlemen [Grenville] tells us America is obstinate; America is almost in open rebellion. I rejoice that America has resisted. Three million of people so dead to all the feelings of liberty, as voluntarily to submit to be slaves, would have been fit instruments to make slaves of the rest." [p. 241]

Of all those in England who were unmoved by the appeal for colonial liberties, there were few, ironically, less sympathetic than the king. All the autocratic tendencies of this ambitious and headstrong monarch, frustrated by the protections surrounding Parliament, came to focus on the colonies. [p. 247]

The Stamp Act In Retrospect / 8

If there is one immutable law of history, it is this: when the response is out of all proportion to the provocation, look further for the causes than the apparent facts of the matter. The response of the colonists to the Stamp Act was out of all proportion to the provocation - or so it certainly seemed to virtually all Englishmen, and to many startled colonists as well. The Stamp Act was, therefore, not so much the cause as the occasion of the riots. The cause was to be found in the fact that the colonists were no longer willing to accept a completely subordinate and dependent relationship to the mother country. [p. 253]

Perhaps the most dramatic effect of the Stamp Act crisis on the patriot leaders was to impel them to sharpen and refine their own notions about the nature of constitutional government. In the decade between the Stamp Act and the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the patriot leaders went to school with the greatest ancient and modern philosophers who considered the nature of the universe and the proper forms of government. They ransacked all the leading authorities on natural law, constitutional government, and individual rights. They read vast amounts of history and pondered its lessons. [p. 253]

…Frances Hutcheson, whose Moral Philosophy had this to say about the relations between the colonies and Great Britain: "If the plan of the mother country is changed by force or degeneration by degree from a safe, mild, and gentle limited power to a severe and absolute one … or if any colony is so increased in numbers and strength that they are sufficient by themselves for all good ends of a political union; they are not bound to continue in their subjection when it is grown so much more burdensome than was expected. …There is something … immaterial in supposing a large society sufficient for lal the good purposes of an independent union, remaining subject to the direction and government of a distant body of men who know not sufficiently the circumstances and exigencies of this society. …" [p. 255]

Henry Home, Lord Kames, … held that there was nothing in the nature of man "that subjects him to the power of any, his Creator and his parents excepted. …Hence it is a principle embraced by the most solid writers that all men are born free and independent of one another." [p. 255]

The generation of revolutionary lawyers read with a special intensity; they searched through all the wisdom of the past to find a formula n the name of which the liberties of all Englishmen might be preserved. [p. 256]

The American Revolution thus is distinguished from other revolutions in that its most radical popular phase came first, its moderate phase last. [p. 257]

The people did not need to be taught revolutionary principles - they had given evidence enough of these - they needed to be instructed in the principles of free government. [p. 259]

Part 2 * Part 3 * Part 4