Related Links in the Library:
This essay first appeared in the journal Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought ,
vol. 1, no. 2 April/June 1978, published by the Cato Institute
(1978-1979) and the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the
editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio. It is republished with thanks
to the original copyright holders.
William Marina is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in
Oakland, Calif., and Professor Emeritus of History at Florida Atlantic
William Marina, "Revolution and Social Change: The American Revolution as a People's War"
Table of Contents
History's great tradition is to help us understand
ourselves and our world so that each of us, individually and in
conjunction with our fellow men, can formulate relevant and reasoned
alternatives and become meaningful actors in making history.
William Appleman Williams1
Toward a Theory of Revolution
Just as "no man is an island," no historical event is isolated from
its context of space and time. The American Revolution drew upon
diverse ideas stretching back to the ancient world, was influenced by
numerous social conditions each with its own past development, and
involved the actions of millions of individuals over a span of years
within a transatlantic area.
In examining a "symbolic" event such as the Revolution, however, we
often overlook how our whole conceptualization of the boundaries of
that "extended" event is largely based upon a sense of comparison.2
In this regard, the key word is not "American," but "Revolution." Thus
our perception of when the Revolution began and ended follows from our
beliefs around the class of events we designate "revolutions."
Perez Zagorin defines three distinct lines of inquiry for studying
revolution. The first is a detailed or general account of one specific
revolution. The second presents a formal comparison of two or more
revolutions to uncover any significant relationships between them. And,
"finally, the third kind of inquiry is theoretical; its purpose is to
establish a theory of revolution capable of explaining causes,
processes, and effects as a type of change."3 But, as Perez Zagorin observes, it is the third theoretical study of revolutions which is most impoverished:
[N]othing has appeared that qualifies as a general
theory of revolution. Furthermore, among theorists there has been
little progressive accumulation of ideas. The general theory of
revolution remains subject to confusion, doubt, and disagreement. Even
elementary questions of definition, terminology, and delimitation of
the field to be explained are not settled.4
Recent historiography of the American Revolution (with a few notable
exceptions) has been preoccupied with the particular. But the most
striking feature of the writings celebrating the Bicentennial has been
the absence of any new, fresh interpretation explaining the broader
meaning of that historic occurrence.
In addition, too much of historical scholarship is fragmented and
overspecialized, and adrift without theoretical moorings or a unifying
Our essay seeks to set the mass of recent scholarship of the
American Revolution within the unifying paradigm of the sociology of
revolution—of revolution as a people's war. This paradigm will permit a
better understanding of the nature and meaning of the American
Revolution. It will invoke as a leitmotif the tensions among
inequality, equality, and egalitarianism which both inspired and
divided the human actors of the Revolution.
This unifying paradigm and these issues concerned with equality will
emerge as we answer four difficult questions about the era of the
(1) Why did a revolution occur in a society viewed as free and prosperous?
(2) Who formed the components of the changing revolutionary coalition?
(3) How did the American revolutionary coalition win its conflict with the leading imperial power?
(4) What was the nature of the society which emerged in the struggle of war and revolution?
Before answering these four questions at length in the major
sections of our essay, we will first briefly define some preliminary
issues relating both to a paradigm of revolutionary social change and
to the role of equality in such change.
The Problems Facing a Paradigm of Social Change
Robert Nisbet in Social Change and History traces the effort
to understand and explain social change back to the pre-Socratic Greeks
(in the West at least). Heraclitus saw all of life as involving change
and he emphasized war as the ultimate activity stimulating social upheaval.6
In developing a cosmology, Adam Smith, as a typical Enlightenment
thinker, drew heavily upon concepts first articulated by the Greek
Since the classical world view profoundly influenced the Renaissance
and Enlightenment, it is not surprising that patterns of cyclical
thought appear continuously from Machiavelli to John Adams.
Machiavelli, as J.G.A. Pocock shows in The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition,
had an enormous impact upon English revolutionaries such as James
Harrington, and hence on the later Whigs, and finally on the Americans
who shared that outlook. A cyclical metaphor was at the core of the
Americans' paradigm or framework for analyzing social change and
The emphasis on "modernization" in the sociology of revolution has
stimulated the study of social change and has called into question the
"inertia" or "tradition" paradigm for revolution. Perhaps the most
influential recent contribution has been Barrington Moore, Jr.'s Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy.9
One of Moore's most important contributions to an analysis of change
was questioning the "inertia" paradigm, one of the unexamined
assumptions about change. Borrowing from physics, the inertia paradigm
assumed the existence of a traditional, natural order of things in
society; only change away from this "norm" need be explained. Quite
apart from the conservative bias, inertia overlooks the enormous
educational effort required if that "tradition" is to be passed on from
one generation to another. This does not happen automatically. The lack of social change in a society is equally as important to explain as any significant change.10
Those who have lived through the last decade of change in America
can appreciate the situation facing British officials after 1763. What
sort of "tradition" could be emphasized in an Empire which (1) was
still feeling the effects of a revolution less than a century before,
(2) was already entering a series of changes collectively labeled "the
Industrial Revolution," and (3) recently had acquired a vast overseas
empire? Assuming it could be articulated, what meaning would that
tradition have for colonists whose average age was roughly sixteen?
Complicating the unity of a tradition was the soaring colonial
population. A high birth rate and an influx of immigrants (many not
from England) would virtually double that population during the years
of the "revolutionary generation," over a third of whom would leave the
seaboard areas for land in the interior.
From this viewpoint it is evident that we must consider revolution
and social change on both a theoretical level and a global basis.
Immanuel Wallerstein's The Modern World-System,11 attempts to utilize such an approach, covering roughly the two hundred years after
1450. Wallerstein's approach reminds us how important is an analytical
framework covering a vast historical landscape if we are to fashion
more coherent theories of social change and revolution.
Strangely enough, in stressing this broad panorama, modern
scholarship has just recently caught up with the popular social unrest
which was perceived by many at the time.12 This will serve as a theme of our essay: the nature of popular social unrest in the epoch of the American Revolution.
A Paradigm for Understanding Revolution
Our best perspective for examining the American Revolution is to
sketch briefly the general agreement about the revolutionary process:
the Why, Who, How, and What of revolution.
In reading through all the jargon of modern social science dealing
with revolution and change (e.g., "J curves," "relative deprivation,"
and "rising expectations") we are forcefully impressed that these
concepts, if not the terminology, were understood by the ancients, as
well as many of the revolutionary generation in America.
As might be expected, much ink and paper have been expended simply on trying to define revolution.13
We need not get bogged down in attempting to offer an all-inclusive
definition. For our purposes, a useful, straightforward definition is
that of Lyford P. Edwards in The Natural History of Revolution:
"A change brought about not necessarily by force and violence, whereby
one system of legality is terminated and another originated."14
Why? Ideology and Legitimacy in Revolutions
Assessing the necessary preconditions for revolution leads us to
examine the composition of the potential revolutionary group. The
important role of ideology is evidence in Crane Brinton's The Anatomy of Revolution, where he emphasizes "the desertion of the intellectuals" as a key phase in the prerevolutionary developments.15
This involves more than desertion, however, for the intellectuals do
not simply withdraw support from the "Old Regime" as Brinton termed
those in power. Beyond merely deserting, a growing number of
intellectuals mount an increasingly vigorous attack upon the very
philosophical underpinnings of the Old Regime; even more importantly,
they advance an alternative paradigm, or world view, about how the
society ought to be organized.16
The sociology of revolution demands much greater exploration of the
whole question of legitimacy and how a new legitimacy comes to
transplant the old.17 In this regard, a very useful idea is the "paradigm" derived from the historian of science, Thomas S. Kuhn.18 Our tendency to conceptualize reality in terms of a model, or paradigm, is closely related to the older tradition in the study of the sociology of knowledge which used the term Weltanschauung, or world view, to describe that idea.19
If we see the paradigms as subsets within a world view, an individual
might hold a number of separate or overlapping paradigms. The totality
of these paradigms constitute his world view and seldom conflict with
Kuhn's normal science—the dominant, accepted, legitimate
paradigm—bears a similarity to the "Old Regime" in the study of the
sociology of revolution.21
A current belief in America holds that the authorities need to use
force to restore law and order. That outlook seems to be a misreading
of the dynamics of social change; real authority always rests upon
legitimacy, not force.22
Legitimacy is, in fact, the very antithesis of force. Large protests
within a society usually decry some objective inequities, which fuel
Revolutions, whether in science or society as a whole, are preceded
by what could be called "a crisis in legitimacy." Authority must
ultimately rest on a belief, held by virtually the entire society, that
the social order is legitimate, that it corresponds with the way things
"ought" to be in a just and equitable society. Operationally, men seek
solutions to social problems within this legitimate world view. Until a
competing revolutionary world view arrives, no one suspects that a
solution might be framed outside of this dominant world view.
Who? Dynamics of Revolutionary Society
The concept of legitimacy leads us into another important aspect of
the revolutionary process: that is the societal dynamics in revolution,
involving the relationship of the leadership to the larger population
and the internal workings of the revolutionary coalition. The idea
persists that the American Revolution was a minority affair. Walter
Lippmann once observed: "Revolutions are always the work of a conscious
Since revolutions always have leaders, it tells us little to observe
that, say, the American Revolution was led by a small minority. This
elite concept fosters the innuendo that such a minority simply
manipulates the majority to do its bidding.
Against the view that a minority manipulates revolutions, a general
postulate holds that at the level of legitimacy the great social
revolutions have always involved the bulk of the population. If a
dialogue between leaders and their supporters ceases, or if the
leadership exceeds the limits of their legitimacy, then the
revolutionary movement hesitates, loses momentum, and may fail
altogether. The minority may then resort to force, a treacherous
course, for the leadership then begins to lose the legitimacy which
animated it, and is no longer very revolutionary.
In "Ideology and an Economic Interpretation of the Revolution" Joseph Ernst has distinguished mentality, ideology, and world view.24
Briefly defined, a "mentality" is a vague but usually broadly held
attitude; the dynamic concept of equality that was increasingly held by
Americans of the revolutionary generation is an example of such a
mentality. Next, a more formal "ideology" characterizes the leadership
in any sort of movement: an effort to explain and more fully understand
the relationship "between ideas and social circumstances." At its most
general level, the American ideology came to encompass republicanism.
Finally, a "world view" is an even more detailed theoretical analysis
developed only by a few, usually among the wider leadership. In the
American Revolution, those who sought to comprehend the larger role of
the British mercantile system, or Empire, were thereby propounding a
world view that integrated social, economic, and political events.
Revolutions are shifting coalitions over time—among both the
leadership and the larger population. Revolutionary coalitions embody
all three of the levels of awareness and so contain overlapping areas
of consensus and disagreement. Consequently, there will be basic "fault
lines" that create internal divisions within those groups comprising
the coalition. Over time, the dynamics of any revolution are shaped by
the interaction of specific groups of interests within the coalition,
as well as the interaction between them.
As an example, one of the basic fault lines in the American
Revolution example divided those who wanted only independence from
England from those who wished to seize the opportunity to work more
extensive changes in the structure of American society. Was the
American Revolution merely a colonial rebellion or was it a true social
revolution? The answer is, of course, both.25
Any future interpretation of the nature of the American Revolution must
begin by making clear the internal divisions among the revolutionaries,
and ways in which the evolving factions and coalitions shaped the
direction of change. (This same debate has occupied historians of the
Revolution since at least the time of J. Franklin Jameson's The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement and Carl Becker's The History of Political Parties in the Province of New York.)
How? People's War and Revolution
Explicating the relationship between the leadership and their
supporters leads to another aspect of revolution: in what way does the
military means employed affect the whole post-revolutionary society.
Whether in an internal civil war or in a colonial war for independence,
if one side is able to wage a "people's war," such a world view and
organizational structure will have repercussions throughout the
society. One of the major divisions in the American revolutionary
coalition—between advocates of a traditional war as opposed to a
people's war—reflected a fundamental difference in paradigms, if not world views, among different revolutionary factions.
What? Political and Constitutional Aftermath of Revolution
Revolutionary coalitions cannot be maintained indefinitely. As a
revolutionary era reaches its final stages, its radical actions are
replaced by an effort to conserve the essentials of the revolutionary
program. In the American case this is exemplified in the Constitution
replacing the Articles of Confederation. Despite the heated debate over
the Constitution, what is significant is that the opposition, with the
inclusion of the Bill of Rights, did not conclude that the Constitution
was a violation of what they conceived as a legitimate social order.
Equality in Human Action and Social Change
Our discussion of the sociology of revolution has highlighted the
conditions and groups which make revolution a possibility and then a
reality. Such an analysis may ignore the fact that individuals (rather
than classes or coalitions) feel, think, and act. In short, there is a
psychology as well as a sociology of revolution. (It is impossible to
miss the Founding Fathers' constant references to ambition, fame, envy,
power, or greed as significant factors.) Often lacking in contemporary
theories of revolution and social change is an understanding that one
must begin with a view of human action or nature which links the
individual to the social groups of which he may become a part.26
The drive for equality, broadly understood, can be viewed as the
central motivating factor in all revolutionary action. Equality serves
as the organizing principle for constructing a social interpretation of
the revolutionary era.27
The issue of equality follows from the fact that human beings as social
animals demonstrate a tendency toward hierarchical attitudes.
There is a constant tension among three concepts: inequality,
equality, and egalitarianism. First inequalitarians tend to be those at
the top of a given social order; with their privileges usually based
upon birth or wealth, they conceive of a rather rigid hierarchy with
little mobility. A number of inequalitarians do feel some paternalistic
concern for those beneath them, which may well be reciprocated from a
By contrast, the egalitarian agitates for the destruction of this
status system by redistributing property, wealth, and income. The
egalitarian program necessitates the creation of an elite group of
guardians whose task it will be to administer the new order. In
reality, therefore, a fully egalitarian society is a logical
impossibility: the small elite is always necessary. The equalitarian
society is characterized by the idea of equality before the law. For
the equalitarian the chance to
compete does not imply the equal chance to win. In such a circumstance
of individual differences, hierarchy—or ideally a plurality of
hierarchies, offering each person an opportunity to find some field in
which he can excel—continues to exist, permitting enormous mobility.
The equalitarian society is a contract society, rather than a status
society, and is based essentially upon achievement. J.R. Pole's The Pursuit of Equality in America is a reminder of how formative equality has been to the American experience, especially to the revolutionary era.28
Why Did the Revolution Occur?
What I call virtue in the republic is the love of the patrie, that is to say, the love of equality.
The question of why the American Revolution occurred requires us to
distinguish between long and short range factors. Further, in so far as
these pertain to the changing structure of American society, were these
such as to have created a loss of legitimacy by the government of the
Mother Country, apart from actions initiated by the British authorities
The Bailyn Interpretation: Ideology or Social Conflict?
The study most closely resembling an interpretation of the coming of the Revolution during the last decade is Bernard Bailyn's The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution.
Bailyn wrote that as he studied the pamphlets and other writings of the
revolutionary generation, he was "surprised" as he "discovered" that
(even more than by the work of John Locke) the Americans had been
influenced by the freedom oriented writings of Whig pamphleteers such
as John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon's Cato's Letters and The Independent Whig.30
But Bailyn's discovery of these "Old Whig" pamphleteers was anticipated by others. As early as 1789 David Ramsay's History of the American Revolution mentioned "those fashionable authors, who have defended the cause of liberty. Cato's Letters, The Independent Whig, and such were common…" Reminiscing in 1816 about the era of the 1770s John Adams observed, "Cato's Letters and The Independent Whig,
and all the writings of Trenchard and Gordon,…all the writings relative
to the revolutions in England became fashionable reading."31
Bailyn's approach to ideas and historical causation fit comfortably
with the dominant outlook which tends to downplay social and economic
conflict—that is the struggle over power—in the American
past, present, and indirectly, the future. But is it possible to
separate ideology (as a cluster of ideas about reality and what ought
to be) and political and constitutional issues from a social and
economic context? Ideas cannot exist independent of some subject,
content, and context.
Equality and the Historical Roots of Social Conflict
In enforcing the importance of the writings of Whigs such as
Trenchard and Gordon, Bailyn has rendered an important twofold service.
First, it becomes apparent how far back beyond 1776 we must go to
understand the ideas that were influencing Americans. Secondly, reading
through the works of Trenchard and Gordon reveals the extent to which
equality was the fundamental issue interwoven into the various specific issues with which they dealt.32
With respect to both of Bailyn's points, J.G.A. Pocock's Machiavellian Moment
takes us back to the efforts of Florentine thinkers to sustain a
republican form of government. These thinkers (of which Machiavelli was
the most profound) were deeply influenced by Aristotle's works and by
their reading of the degeneration of the Roman Republic into Empire.
One clue to Machiavelli's republicanism is his work as a militia
organizer during the period of the Republic in Florence.
Two of the dominating concepts for these republican theorists were
virtue and corruption, both essential to understanding the republican
paradigm which culminated in the American Revolution. Montesquieu fully
understood the republican bearing of virtue in his remark, quoted
above, that virtue fundamentally depended upon the existence of
equality.33 Conversely, the corruption and decay which undermined republics were closely related to inequality.34 Interwoven through Machiavelli's analysis is his deep concern with the whole question of legitimacy.35
Equality and the Seventeenth Century English Revolutions
In Pocock's analysis, seventeenth-century England underwent many of
the changes the Italian city states had experienced a century before,
complicated by the Protestant Reformation. The English debate drew upon
Machiavelli and the republican historians of the ancient world. Both
Pocock's Machiavellian Moment and Christopher Hill's The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution36 offer an abundance of evidence to link the debate to inequality/equality/egalitarian divisions.
Drawing upon the ancients, Machiavelli, and Harrington, the
"Opposition," such as Trenchard and Gordon, stretched across a wide
political spectrum. Caroline Robbins's The Eighteenth Century Commonwealthman indicates many Whigs thought of themselves as in the tradition of the Levellers of the English Revolution, and those views, stressing equality and liberty, were transmitted across the ocean to the New World.37 In assessing the "Opposition," Kramnick's Bolingbroke and His Circle has focused some attention on the importance of Lord Bolingbroke.38 Forrest McDonald in The Phaeton Ride has dealt with Bolingbroke's influence on later American leaders such as Thomas Jefferson.39 Roger Durrell Parker has explored "The Gospel of Opposition" both in England and America.40
There were enormous changes occurring in the areas of commerce,
banking, and even in manufacturing. Even though the State had often
been involved in the process, there was certainly no reason to believe
that this had to be the case.41
Indeed, a major issue separated the Court view (those who sought to use
government in this economic development, and incidentally help
themselves in the process) and the Country Party view (those who felt
government intervention was not only unnecessary, but detrimental). The
term Financial Revolution has been used by historians to suggest that
this State interventionism was the only natural and necessary way to
realize this process. This analysis tends to place opponents of the
State's intervention in the economy as opponents of market
developments, when that simply was not true.42
The Country Party included men so wedded to a world view of agrarian
independence that they wanted nothing to do with a financial,
commercial, market revolution, with or without State interventionism.
In its most rigid form, their's was an egalitarian program modeled on
Many of the Country Party, on the other hand, were committed to
equality of opportunity before the law. They believed they could best
achieve such equality by limiting the State to a very negative role.
This view united them in their opposition to the statism of the Court
Party and its evident inequalitarianism. They fully accepted the
implications of the emerging urban-market revolution. They were in no
way philosophically wedded to agrarian life. Farmlands were simply
another area where market and technological techniques would yield
important improvements. State interventionism was the enemy.44
A final group was, perhaps, the most important and representative of
all. Their rhetoric was usually agrarian. They understood the virtue of
the agrarian life: the apparent political stability of a nation of
independent yeomen. But they realized the potential benefits from an
urban-market sector within society. They were also disenchanted with
the long-range corruption of a state financial system based upon great
extremes of wealth and the creation of an urban proletariat without
property.45 Whatever their ambivalences, they opposed the Court's alliance of State and private interests.
Equality, Social Structure, and Social Change in Eighteenth Century America
The ideology flowing from the English Revolution needs to be linked
to the social change in the American colonies during the eighteenth
century. In this reassessment the most important is Rowland Berthoff
and John M. Murrin's "Feudalism, Communalism, and the Yeoman
Freeholder: The American Revolution Considered as a Social Accident."46
Berthoff and Murrin point out that "Until very recently few historians
argued that the causes of the Revolution lay in the structure of
colonial society." And "[n]either J. Franklin Jameson, when in 1925 he
broached the question of the Revolution as a social movement, nor
Frederick B. Tolles, in reassessing the matter in 1954, paid any
attention to the possibility that social causes impelled the political
events of the years 1763 to 1775."47
One recent example is Gordon S. Wood's observation in "Rhetoric and Reality in the American Revolution," that "Something profoundly unsettling was going on in (their) society."48
In going back to the half century before the Revolution, however,
Berthoff and Murrin suggest that "[i]n certain ways economic growth and
greater social maturity were making the New World resemble the Old more
closely." In such a society "becoming both more like and more unlike
that of Europe, more and more unsettled, more complex and less
homogeneous, a revolutionary war—even one conducted for the most
narrowly political ends—could hardly fail to stimulate certain kinds of
change and inhibit others."49
Berthoff and Murrin suggest that in American society a
recurrent tension between this conservative, even
reactionary, ideal and the practical liberty and individuality that
their new circumstances stimulated is a familiar theme of colonial
history—Puritanism against secularism, communalism eroded by economic
progress, hierarchic authority challenged by antinomianism.50
Pseudofeudal Inequalities and Social Unrest
Berthoff and Murrin disagree with those historians who believe "that
feudalism was too anachronistic to survive in the free air of a new
world." On the contrary:
The opposite explanation is more compelling. Feudal
projects collapsed in the seventeenth century, not because America was
too progressive to endure them, but because it was too primitive to
sustain them. A feudal order necessarily implies a differentiation of
function far beyond the capacity of new societies to create. In every
colony the demographic base was much too narrow…. By 1730 the older
colonies had become populous enough to make the old feudal claims
On the shifting social pattern imposed by the State Berthoff and Murrin are worth quoting at length:
exploitation of legal privilege became the single
greatest source of personal wealth in the colonies in the generation
before Independence. By the 1760s the largest proprietors—and no one
else in all of English America—were receiving colonial revenues
comparable to the incomes of the greatest English noblemen and larger
than those of the richest London merchants. Indeed the Penn claim was
rapidly becoming the most valuable single holding in the Western world.52
A number of historians such as Richard Maxwell Brown in "Violence
and the American Revolution" have commented upon the rising level of
internal social disorder and violence that preceded the American
Revolution, and which mounted with growing intensity.53
This protest needs to be linked to the pseudofeudal revival, for as
Berthoff and Murrin observe, it "was as divisive as it was profitable,
provoking more social violence after 1745 than perhaps any other
Inequality, Archaic Communalism, and the Yeoman Freeholder
Even prior to the Revolution the most violent protests against the
pseudofeudal revival, as Berthoff and Murrin note, came from areas
where the settlers were transplanted from New England. New England
"resisted the feudal revival because in several important respects it
was rather less modern than the rest of English America." The early New
England town conducting its affairs through a general meeting of the
freeholders, a large majority of the inhabitants, may seem modern, but
"it embodied an archaic English tradition."54 Kenneth Lockridge has called it a "Utopian Closed Corporate Community."55
"Because it distilled the communal side of the medieval peasant
experience—with lordship quite deliberately excluded—it could resist
feudal claims with furious energy during the middle third of the
But as Berthoff and Murrin point out, this communalism had been
breaking down from other causes: "the population grew denser, less
homogenous, more individualistic, and more European."
In the face of an attempted pseudofeudal revival, on the one hand,
and the breakdown of the vestiges of communalism on the other, "the new
democratic individualism harked back to yet a third English model that
had survived more successfully in eighteenth-century America than in
England itself—the yeoman freeholder." Here we are brought in contact
again with the appeal of the "Country" ideology. In touching on the
growing inequalities in prerevolutionary American society, Berthoff and
Murrin observe that "the image of a golden age of republican equality,
of a society of yeoman freeholders
(abstracted from their place among the various interrelated classes of
English social tradition and colonial reality), had its greatest appeal
at a time when there was solid reason to feel things were going too far
the other way."57
The growth of cities and the development of a market economy are
blamed for differences while the continued inequalities engendered by
the statism of the political system itself are ignored.58
To what extent did differences occur within the overall development of
a rapidly expanding economy in which many were moving upward, though
some more rapidly than others?
In addressing these long-run social trends, Jack P. Greene points
out that one has to be careful not to ascribe social tensions too great
a role in causing the Revolution.59
However, the role of the British government's statist interventionism,
which precipitated the social turmoil of the feudal revival, is
inseparable from the extension of imperial policymaking, which led
directly to the Revolution.
Who Formed the Revolutionary Coalition?
The leading men of America, we may believe, wish to continue to be the principal people in their own country.
Revolutions, of course, are not begotten by abstract social changes
extending over a century, but by living individuals who come to feel
social repercussions over relatively short periods of time. To survey
this accelerating human drama of the American Revolution, we need to
describe the shifting composition of the protest coalition as the
issues moved toward self-defense and later independence.
Equality: From Early Social Protest to Armed Defense
Two distinct and dissatisfied groups launched protests against the
elites who dominated a colonial society marked by inequalities. Both
breathed inspiration from the Country-Whig tradition and its stress on
equality. The first group, representing the mechanics and artisans of
the burgeoning colonial urban centers, resented being cut off from full
participation in the political system and its expanding social
differentiation. As in Europe, where such unequal disfranchisement was
even more extensive, organized rioting became a carefully orchestrated
symptom of politics.61
The second group comprised the townspeople and farmers in the
western segments of several colonies, who chafed at the inequities of their
underrepresentation in the assemblies. Serious protests erupted in New
York, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas during the same period as the
developing quarrel with British imperial authorities.62
The early social protests during the years 1759 to 1765 are well documented in Bernard Knollenberg's Origins of the American Revolution: 1759–1765.
Knollenberg observed, "in reading some accounts of the American
Revolution, one gets the impression that until the very eve of the
outbreak of war, active colonial opposition was limited to a relatively
few propagandists and hotheads, which is far from true."
But the most unifying action of all was the Stamp Act of 1765.63
Nothing better demonstrates the British notions of inequality and
subordination. Thomas Whately, the official who drafted the Act,
commented upon the higher tax on university and law degrees in America
by saying that these were raised, "in order to keep mean persons out of
those situations in life which they disgrace."64 Clearly American equalitarian ideas of mobility, especially through education, were out of step with imperial thinking!
In The Founding of a Nation: A History of the American Revolution, 1763–1776,
Merrill Jensen has observed that the Stamp Act "transformed" the nature
of "American opposition to British policies." The real engine of
protest was the riots which disturbed the more conservative of the
But the most lasting result of the Stamp Act protest was institutional:
a communication network among the Americans grew out of the numerous
protest organizations ranging from the Stamp Act Congress to the Sons
What provoked the final crisis, of course, was the Tea Act. Designed
to aid that government chartered monopoly, the East India Company, the
Act culminated in the famous Boston Tea Party (December 16, 1773). This
defiance was a brilliant stroke to polarize the issue and undermine
British legitimacy. The British, as is well-known, retaliated by
passing the "Coercive," or "Intolerable Acts."
In the context of the crisis of legitimacy, the Intolerable Acts form a sort of watershed of revolution. David Ammerman's In the Common Cause: American Response to the Coercive Acts of 1774 indicates the new direction of revolutionary protest. The Americans responded by calling a Continental Congress.
Social Dynamics of the Coalition for Independence
It is noteworthy that the internal dynamics of the protest coalition
were also changing, especially in Massachusetts, the heart of protest.
Urban firebrands such as Samuel Adams now found themselves out-flanked,
and even "out-radicaled," by the western agrarians66 These militiamen were prepared to fight, if necessary, to protect their rights. As J.R. Pole observes in The Decision of American Independence,
"The progressive breakdown of the formal structure of power threw
unprecedented opportunities into the hands of the local militants."
From early 1775 onward into the War itself, it was not unusual for
local Committees of Safety to exert enormous pressure—a procedure known
as Recantation—upon those suspected of Loyalist sympathies. Here was a
People's War in action! The first fighting, of course, occurred when
the British sought to march to Lexington and Concord, literally into
the teeth of this armed countryside of agrarian militia.
Time, itself, is something of a legitimizer. Each day that American
institutions ruled the country solidified the notion of their
legitimacy. What Adam Smith realized in his memorandum (quoted earlier)
to the British government was that local American leaders, having come
to rule themselves and their communities for some period of time, would
not easily surrender that role.67
More than a military effort by the British would be needed to undo the
organic development and growing legitimacy of such a revolutionary
Common Sense: Social Equality, and Popular Justice
In this interim, American thinking increasingly recognized that
independence was the only solution to the problem. The catalyst of that
final shift was Thomas Paine's little pamphlet "Common Sense."
Equality, as noted, had been a conspicuous thrust of the Whig tradition. In 1721, for example, in Cato's Letters
number 45, "Of the Equality and Inequality of Men," Trenchard and
Gordon had noted, "It is evident to common Sense, that there ought to
be no Inequality in Society,…" Paine raised the same equalitarian
concern in the quotation he chose for the cover of his own pamphlet:
"Man knows no Master save creaking Heaven, Or those whom choice and
common good ordain."
Paine opened "Common Sense" by distinguishing between "society,"
which "in every state is a blessing," and "government," which, "even in
its best state, is but a necessary evil." Because of "the inability of
moral virtue to govern the world," government, whose purpose was
"security," was necessary. The best form of government was one which
insured security "with the least expense and the greatest benefit."
Paine denied that independence would inaugurate a civil war among
the colonies. "Where there are no distinctions there can be no
superiority; perfect equality affords no temptation," Paine argued. "If
there is any true cause of fear respecting independence, it is because
no plan is yet laid down."
Equality: Social Divisions behind the Declaration of Independence
As John M. Head notes in A Time to Rend: An Essay on the Decision for American Independence,
"As late as the fourth week of June, what the members of Congress would
do about…independence was not irrevocably established." Certainly, the
advocates of independence were concerned not only to vote it through,
but that it win more than a slight majority. Popular pressures, rising
up through the state governments especially after mid-May, changed the
The Declaration of Independence was not, of course, in any sense a
blueprint for a revolutionary society. At the same time, its emphasis
on equality voiced something more than just a declaration of freedom
from British rule. In recent years it has become fashionable to talk
about the American Revolution as simply a conservative, colonial
rebellion. These tensions swirling around the issue of equality would
seem to belie that image.68
We need to define precisely what criteria are being employed in making
such an assessment. Many years ago R.R. Palmer noted the large
percentage of Loyalists who left America, never to return.69
Since this percentage of disenchanted emigrés was larger than that of
other so-called more radical revolutions, it appears an unlikely
yardstick to measure the radicalness of any revolution. And in a recent
study, Men in Rebellion: Higher Governmental Leaders and the Coming of the American Revolution,
James Kirby Martin has estimated that elite turnover averaged 77
percent, but ranged as high as 100 percent in several colonies.
Compared with the 50 percent in Russia after 1917, this seems very
radical indeed! As we shall see, it was this vast turnover and
appearance of "new" men which sociologically explains the movement
culminating in the adoption of the Constitution.70
Equality: Individualist vs. Corporatist World Views
Finally, a word is in order about the Tories, or Loyalists. Despite some errors, William H. Nelson's little volume, The American Tory,
remains the best. The occupations and social classes of the Loyalists
cut across American society even if they were more highly represented
among the old oligarchy. Thus, of the 300 people banished from
Massachusetts in 1778, about a third were merchants and professional
men, another third were farmers, and a final third were artisans,
shopkeepers, and laborers. Nelson identifies two areas where Loyalists
concentrated: the extreme western frontier from Georgia up into New
York, and the maritime regions of the Middle Colonies. Religion also
played a part, especially among minorities:
Almost all the Loyalists were, in one way or another,
more afraid of America than they were of Britain. Almost all of them
had interests that they felt needed protection from an American
majority…. Not many Loyalists were
as explicit in their distrust of individualism as, say, Jonathan
Boucher, but most of them shared his suspicion of a political order
based on the 'common good' if the common good was to be defined by a
There existed a conflict of fundamental world views. Loyalists and
Patriots "differ not only about the Revolution itself, and revolutions
in general: even more deeply, they differ about the essential functions
of government, about the proper role of the State, and about the nature
of society itself." It was in essence a confrontation between a
corporatist and an individualist world view.71
How Was the Revolution Fought Militarily?
"War is ten percent fighting, ten percent waiting, and eighty percent self-improvement."72
The question of how the Americans won the Revolution has for the
most part been treated essentially as a military problem usually in
terms of conventional armies confronting each other in a series of set
battles and campaigns. Some theorists on guerrilla warfare such as
Lewis H. Gann, Guerrillas in History, for example, have seen the American Revolution as of little relevance to understanding that mode of warfare:
Regarding revolutions in general, nothing can be more
dangerous to insurrectionary planners than the romantic notion that
virtuous peoples—rightly struggling to be free—must necessarily win in
their struggles against tyrants. This interpretation is based on a
misconceived idea of revolutionary wars that many textbooks help to
perpetuate. According to the old version, the Americans won the War of
Independence because the British Redcoats were no match against
liberty-loving farmers sniping from behind cover against
over-disciplined regulars…. But the American War of Independence was
not mainly won by guerrillas but by regular soldiers and sailors.
British soldiers were perfectly capable of becoming as skilled in
skirmishing as their American opponents.73
Revolutionary Warfare as a Social-Political Activity
Gann's observations are indicative of the misunderstanding of some
writers on guerrilla or counterinsurgency warfare. While guerrilla
warfare is a part, a tactic, of revolutionary warfare; the two are not
the same. Certainly, neither virtue nor mass support of a population
can guarantee victory—a superior foe willing to employ a pacification
program involving mass genocide may win—but the support and involvement
of the people is a necessary prerequisite to victory
in revolutionary warfare, and it is significant that this aspect is now
in the process of rediscovery. However, it is peripheral to the essence
of revolutionary warfare whether the regular soldiers of an occupying
force can develop counterinsurgency techniques. For revolutionary
warfare is essentially a political activity, as the quote from Mao
above clearly implies. "Self-improvement" means not only as a fighting
force, but also in raising the level of consciousness both of the
soldiers and of the people as a whole, from a "mentality" toward an
"ideology" (in Joseph Ernst's terms).
As James W. Pohl has observed, perhaps the most astute American analyst of people's revolutionary war was Thomas Paine. His Crisis
papers, written between 1776 and 1783, are literally filled with
observations such as the following: "It is distressing to see an enemy
advancing into a country, but it is the only place in which we can beat
them" for such a campaign placed the enemy "where he is cut off from
all supplies, and must sooner or later inevitably fall into our hands."74
Since the Americans controlled the country, except where there were
British troops—and several times during the war when British armies
were in transport at sea none of their forces were on American
soil—the British had to devise a strategy to regain North America. For
most of the war the British imagined this as an essentially military
problem. But from the standpoint of revolutionary warfare and
legitimacy, much more was involved.75
George Washington had to devise a strategy to counter that of the British. In his recent study The Way of the Fox: American Strategy in the War for America, 1775–1783,
Dave Richard Palmer has traced this through several phases. A great
deal has been made of the idea that several times, after American
defeats, the British were near victory. A corollary is that American
victory was possible only through an alliance with France. In the light
of what we know about revolutionary warfare and the tactics of
counterinsurgency, both of these assumptions appear wide of the mark.
British Failure to Understand Counterinsurgency
The tactics of counterinsurgency may be summarized briefly (without
mentioning the ideological dimension): first the enemy's regular army
is broken up, then the irregular units, and, finally, as the remaining
guerrillas are isolated from the population, the insurgency begins to
dry up. It is also necessary to deny the enemy the use of any sanctuary
into which he can retreat or from which he can secure supplies.
Viewed in this light, it is evident that the British never took the
first step toward victory. The Americans understood fully the
principles of "protracted" conflict.76 British commanders acknowledged they controlled nothing except where their armies encamped. Lacking that first step, pacification became impossible.
New England, staunchly Patriot—94 percent in Connecticut, for
example—was the sanctuary of American forces. From this source supplies
and troops flowed, on an irregular basis to be sure, to the American
army. In a fine account Page Smith has explained why Washington's army
varied so greatly in size, sometimes from one week to the next, as men
went back to farm.77 Every fall these farmers went back to plant, but in the spring, year after year, they returned to fight again.
The above suggests that a sociological analysis of the American army
would be of value. Here again, the
inequalitarian-equalitarian-egalitarian tension played an important
From a sociological perspective, the courageous army that struggled
through that memorable winter at Valley Forge was hardly representative
of either the army or the population supporting it. It was noted above
that the backbone of the fighting army of the spring and summer—whether
militia or Continentals—often returned to their farms during the fall
and especially the winter. Apart from the officers, a high percentage
of the winter soldiers were what might otherwise be called displaced
men. With few roots in the society, they had nowhere else to go. Years
ago Allen Bowman in The Morale of the American Revolutionary Army explored the number of foreigners, convicts, 'former' Loyalists, and British deserters who formed the ranks of the army.
Militia vs. Standing Army and Empire
The ambitions of much of the officer corps, and the sense of
inequality in some of them, must also be related to the function of the
regular army as a military instrument.78
It also reveals one of the major fault lines within the revolutionary
coalition. A tenet of radical Whiggism detailed in Lois Schwoerer, "No Standing Armies!" The Antiarmy Ideology in Seventeenth Century England grew out of the "Standing Army" controversy in England.79
Men such as John Trenchard fully understood, from the English
Revolution and after, that the King's power rested on his control of a
regular, standing army. Bernard Knollenberg's Origins of the American Revolution and Growth of the American Revolution
suggest that radical success was a factor in the decision by British
policymakers to garrison a force in North America, which might be used
there or brought back home to quell domestic dissent.
Radical Whiggism leaned, therefore, toward the idea of a people's
militia, as was to be reflected later in the Second Amendment to the
American Constitution. Such a force tends to be essentially defensive,
as we shall see. It fights best when the enemy invades its community.
It has neither the organization, training, weaponry, nor
motivation for an offensive action, let alone a sustained one. Its very
decentralization mitigates against very effective hierarchical command
On the other hand, Richard Kohn in "The Murder of the Militia System" and Eagle and Sword
describes how the less radical members of the American revolutionary
coalition tended to think along more conventional military lines.80
Unlike the militia, an organized army is capable of a sustained,
offensive campaign. It can initiate an assault, capture, and hold
Beginning with a mentality of equality, a few Americans did not stop
with an ideology of republicanism, but carried the analysis a step
further, toward a world view of empire. Even young John Adams, who was
less drawn toward empire than some other leaders and could write about
its contradictions in the 1775 Novanglus letters, was capable of such an imperial vision.81
The most immediate example of the focus of this kind of world view was
Canada. Can it be accidental that in 1775, with the British army
bottled up in Boston, the American leadership took the opportunity to
launch a nearly successful, and then ultimately disastrous, attack on
Canada? Assuming the Americans thought the Canadians wanted liberation,
which soon appeared an illusion, how can we explain the continued
appeal of a Canadian expedition except in terms of empire? As the war
drew to a close, Washington and others were still envisioning such a
campaign, despite their scant resources. The dreams of empire died hard.
The question of Canada, however, leads to another facet of the war, the French Alliance. Richard B. Morris in The American Revolution Reconsidered,
is one of the few historians who suggests, with plausibility, that
victory would have been possible without the Alliance, and that the
Alliance probably created as many problems as it solved. The
opportunity to acquire Canada was also a factor in the alliance with
the French. The continued American desire for Canada and the French
coolness toward this imperial thrust is described in William C.
Stinchcombe, The American Revolution and the French Alliance.
Some Americans wanted not only independence, but independence and
empire. To understand better that goal and its relationship with the
Alliance, the situation in late 1777 and early 1778 must be recalled.
Late in 1777 the British had not only suffered a significant defeat
at Germantown, but had also lost their first army at Saratoga. The
losses to militia forces, such as John Stark's Green Mountain Boys,
which Burgoyne suffered on route, weakened the British army. At the
first battle of Saratoga (September 19, 1777), Burgoyne took heavy
casualties from Daniel Morgan's sharpshooters, on which see Don
Higginbotham, Daniel Morgan: Revolutionary Rifleman, and North Callahan, Daniel Morgan: Ranger of the Revolution. Horatio Gates
effectively used the American militia and applied guerrilla strategy in
forcing Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga (October 17, 1777).
The peace feelers that resulted in the Carlisle Commission were
superceded by the news of the French Alliance. What is most interesting
is the shrill tone with which the American leadership greeted these
efforts at negotiation. Surely at that date, this was not a question of
undercutting the legitimacy of the American leadership. The more
hawkish British leaders correctly indicated that the very negotiations
with the Congress added to its legitimacy. What the Congress seemed
most intent on doing was cutting off any dialogue between the members
of the Carlisle Commission and the larger American population.82
It does not seem unfair to suggest that the great fear might have been
that negotiations, once under way, might culminate in independence
without empire. The alternative of independence without empire might
satisfy the great majority of the people; it was certainly less
acceptable to a segment of the leadership concerned with empire. The
most complete study is Weldon A. Brown, Empire or Independence: A Study in the Failure of Reconciliation, 1774–1783.83
Franklin, in demanding Florida and Canada, plus an indemnity, was not
offering conditions upon which to open negotiations but rather to abort
them, and that is the way the British interpreted his actions. The
failure of these negotiations protracted the war for over three more
years with great suffering on both sides. In a peace two years after
that, the Americans finally settled for independence without empire.
People's Militia, Guerrilla War, and Victory
What, then, did the Americans gain from the Alliance? Little more
than might have been negotiated in 1778. It is true that a French army
and naval force made possible Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown, but
that event cannot be dealt with in isolation. The exhaustion of his
army in its weaving campaign through the South had been very much the
work of regular, partisan, and guerrilla American units.
Nathanael Greene's strategy of dispersal of forces created the basis
for the partisan warfare campaign in the South. John Shy's "The
American Revolution: The Military Conflict Considered as a
Revolutionary War," Don Higginbotham's The War of American Independence; Military Attitudes, Policies, and Practices, 1763–1789, and Russell F. Weigley's The Partisan War: The South Carolina Campaign of 1780–1782 provide important new analyses of the role of militia and guerrilla warfare. Hugh F. Rankin's Francis Marion: The Swamp Fox
discusses the guerrilla volunteer marksmen who formed "Marion Brigade"
which played a crucial part at battles such as Georgetown, Eutaw
Springs, and Parker's Ferry. Don
Higginbotham's "Daniel Morgan: Guerrilla Fighter" analyzes Daniel
Morgan's guerrilla tactics (e.g., Cornwallis and Tarleton at the
battles of Cowpens, South Carolina and in North Carolina) for which
Morgan has been considered the greatest guerrilla commander of the
The British called the area around Charlotte, North Carolina, the
"Hornets' Nest," and later they were forced to abandon much of their
equipment in evading engagements with American units. That every
successful insurgency culminates in regular army forces accepting the
surrender of their counterparts should never obscure the role of the
irregulars. By that time, many of the irregulars remained in the
countryside to administer order, or had returned to their work.
After 1778, British strategy moved toward the possibility of developing a pacification program. As Shy's A People Numerous and Armed makes clear, the fundamental problem was always the American militia:
The British and their allies were fascinated by the
rebel militia. Poorly trained and badly led, often without bayonets,
seldom comprised of the deadly marksmen dear to American legend, the
Revolutionary militia was much more than a military joke, and perhaps
the British came to understand that better than did many Americans
themselves. The militia enforced law and maintained order wherever the
British army did not, and its presence made the movement of smaller
British formations dangerous. Washington never ceased complaining about
his militia—about their undependability, their indiscipline, their
cowardice under fire—but from the British viewpoint, rebel militia was
one of the most troublesome and predictable elements in a confusing
war. The militia nullified every British attempt to impose royal
authority short of using massive armed force. The militia regularly
made British light infantry, German Jager, and Tory raiders pay a
price, whatever the cost to the militia itself, for their constant
probing, foraging, and marauding. The militia never failed in a real
emergency to provide reinforcements and even reluctant draftees for the
State and Continental regular forces. From the British viewpoint, the
militia was the virtually inexhaustible reservoir of rebel military
manpower, and it was also the sand in the gears of the pacification
We have only one intensive case study of the American militia operating in a given locale, Adrian Leiby's insightful The American Revolutionary War in the Hackensack Valley.85
What is significant is that here we are dealing not with an area where
the British penetrated only once or twice during the course of the
Revolution. On the contrary, one area—Bergen County across the Hudson
from New York City—was under the guns of the British and thereby
contested for during virtually the entire course of the War. It was
thus almost a classic laboratory case for examining the development of
an American guerrilla unit. Under the direction of Major John M. Goetschius,
the Dutch farmers built a guerrilla unit that from hesitant beginnings
by the end of the War matured into a more effective fighting group than
the regular army. His correspondence with Washington makes plain that
the Dutchman commanded a better understanding of the essentials of
revolutionary guerrilla warfare than did his Commander-in-Chief.86
Relevance of the Revolution's Military History
What relevance, if any, is the military history of the American
Revolution to an age when liberty seems threatened from within and
without? In their study of history the radical Whigs had concluded that
the internal threat of a standing, professional, volunteer army far
outweighed its potential utility against a foreign threat. Today we
know that the irregular, people's army functioned far more effectively
than was formerly imagined. There are those, of course, who say that
times have changed: that even the "lesson" of Vietnam, of what a
guerrilla force can do (provided the larger power does not resort to
genocide or nuclear weapons) is irrelevant to a confrontation between
the superpowers. While other Communist leaders in the Russian
Revolution often criticized the effectiveness of the peasant militia,
Leon Trotsky appreciated how truly effective was their fighting
capacity against the regular army. He understood that the Party must
later smash their "individualism," and virtually "anarchic" desire to
hold their own "individual plots" of land: "Today, free, he for the
first feels himself to be someone, and he starts to think that he is
the centre of the universe."87
What Was the Revolution's Political and Constitutional Resolution?
It has ever been my hobby-horse to see rising in
America an empire of liberty, and a prospect of two or three hundred
millions of freemen, without one noble or one king among them. You say
it is impossible. If I should agree with you in this, I would still
say, let us try the experiment, and preserve our equality as long as we
can. A better system of education for the common people might preserve
them long from such artificial inequalities as are prejudicial to
society, by confounding the natural distinction of right and wrong,
virtue and vice.
John Adams, 178688
A major question for historians is: What changes occurred in
American society as a result of the War and the drive for equality?
These developments provide a framework for understanding the equalitarian forces that pushed for replacing the Articles of Confederation and ratifying the Constitution.
Recent assessments of the motivations supporting the Constitution go
back to Charles Beard's famous economic interpretation. Without
entering into a discussion of Beard's interpretation, some of his
economic data may be incorporated into a valid social interpretation of
Ambiguities in Social-Political Groups: Agrarian Federalists vs. Commercial Nationalists?
The American revolutionary leadership studied the past, in part, to
build ideologies and world views for shaping the future. "Given the
social and cultural structure of the United States during the 1780s, we
can deduce that men differed radically over what constitutes the Good
Lee Benson, together with other writers, "assume[s] that the
characteristics that predisposed men to agrarianism tended also to
predispose them to distrust the State." And, "it follows, therefore,
that the new nation should be a decentralized, loose confederation of
the several independent states." On the other hand, "within a liberal
republic, the logical corollary of 'commercialism' was a system derived
from the proposition that the State could function as a creative,
powerful instrument for realizing the Good Society…[T]hey believed the
State must be strong and centralized."90
While Benson acknowledged that not "all agrarians were federalists"
or "all Commercialists nationalists," nonetheless, "a marked tendency
existed for agrarians to be federalists and commercialists to be
nationalists." Caution is demanded in doing justice to the
relationships between agrarianism/commercialism and distrust of the
State, as well as between the decentralized State/Centralized State.91
The critical factor, therefore, was that the perceived political crisis
had caused some agrarians—who would otherwise have preferred small
government, focused at the state level—to accept a nationalist
solution. But that strange union of agrarianism and nationalism is
difficult to sustain without the ultimate use of force to retain what
are conceived of as the agrarian virtues.92
Social Tensions and the Ambiguities of Republican Equality
The most thorough recent study of the period during and after the
Revolution, culminating in the adoption of the Constitution, is Gordon
S. Wood's The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787. The
first part, "Ideology of the Revolution," discusses the Whig world
view. Wood underlines the important concepts of Virtue and Equality in
the Whig Republican paradigm. Thus, the Revolution, they believed,
would be "ultimately sustained by a basic transformation of
their social structure." Obviously, that ideal could hardly be
considered a conservative Revolution. While there were "sporadic
suggestions for leveling legislation,"…"Equality was…not directly
conceived of by most Americans in 1776, including such a devout
republican like Samual Adams, as a social leveling."93
Thus while the Americans recognized all sorts of natural distinctions
in society, it was believed these would never become extreme:
It was widely believed that equality of opportunity
would necessarily result in a rough equality of station, that as long
as the social channels of ascent and descent were kept open, it would
be impossible for any artificial aristocrats or overgrown rich men to
maintain themselves for long. With social movement founded only on
merit, no distinctions could have time to harden.94
However, Wood notes the paradox in the American's belief that the ideal of equality would banish envy.
Social Equality vs. the Inequalities of the Imperial System
In an earlier article Wood had discussed the rising social tensions in much the same direction as Berthoff and Murrin.95
"Politics, within the British imperial system, was highly personal and
factionalized, involving bitter rivalry among small elite groups for
the rewards of State authority, wealth, power, and prestige.
On the other hand, American Whigs had come to feel that removing the
imperial system would cure the ills and disorders within the society.
If extreme, their perceptions were not without some foundation: And the
grievance which "particularly rankled" the Americans "was the abuse of
royal authority in creating political and hence social distinctions,"
and "the manipulation of official appointments."96 Any effort to close off a possibility of advancement and greater equality would, and did, lead to confrontation.
Studies more sympathetic than Wood's to the Articles of Confederation are Elisha P. Douglass, Rebels and Democrats: The Struggle for Equal Political Rights and Majority Rule During the American Revolution, and Merrill Jensen, The American Revolution Within America,97
which covers more succinctly many of the points made by Wood. A useful
interpretative survey of the issues and the literature culminating in
the Constitution is Robert E. Shalhope, "Toward a Republican Synthesis:
The Emergence of an Understanding of Republicanism in American
One cannot overlook the militia as a political institution (whatever
one's view of the effectiveness of these essentially defense-minded
warriors) as described in David Curtis Skaggs's, "Flaming Patriots and
Inflaming Demagogues: The Role of the Maryland Militia in Revolutionary
Society and Politics."99
Framework of Equality Behind Ratification
The fact that government was decentralized under the Articles did not mean that its role at the state level would necessarily be small.100
In most states the "new" men moved to implement a rather extensive
program of state interventionism. This included extensive taxation and
a monetary inflation which certainly must be regarded as egalitarian in
In limiting the powers of both the executive and the courts, the
general thrust of the American Revolution had been toward "popular
sovereignty," placing major political power, with a few, if any,
restraints, in the hands of the legislatures. This opened the door for
extensive government interventionism, at the local and state levels to
be sure, but with few protections for the individual outside the
Something had happened after 1776 to convince many that the
Republican experiment was not working as it should. The solution was to
check the arbitrary powers of the populist, state legislatures, and the
overly rapid rise of less than well educated "new" men, by raising the
central focus of government to the national level. In a sense, it was a
gamble to check egalitarianism, at least for a time, by institutionally
moving toward the centralization that might hasten empire. Both empire
and egalitarianism, of course, were the twin nemeses of republicanism;
but there seemed no easy way to halt both.103
1. William Appleman Williams, The Contours of American History, 19.
The idea of a conceptualized, or "symbolic," event such as the
Industrial Revolution, as compared to an actual, or "existential,"
event such as the death of Charles I, is taken from Page Smith, Historians and History, 202.
3. Perez Zagorin, "Theories of Revolution in Contemporary Historiography," Political Science Quarterly 88 (1973): 28–29.
4. Zagorin, "Theories of Revolution in Contemporary Historiography."
5. Merrill Jensen, The American Revolution Within America. Also see Melvin Richter, "The Uses of Theory: Tocqueville's Adaptation of Montesquieu," in Richter, ed., Essays in Theory and History, 75; Gene Wise, American Historical Explanations: A Strategy for Grounded Inquiry,
76. A good discussion of the rise of imperial authoritarianism, the
decline of historical objectivity, and the intellectuals' scramble for
financial support as described by Lucian of Samosata is Chester G.
Starr, Civilization and the Caesars: The Intellectual Revolution in the Roman Empire, 259–261.
6. See Robert S. Nisbet, Social Change and History.
7. See Vernard Foley, The Social Physics of Adam Smith.
8. This is discussed in J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition, which also lists other of his important writings on the intellectual currents that influenced the American Revolution.
A good critique of this is Theda Skocpol, "A Critical Review of
Barrington Moore's Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy," Politics and Society 4 (Fall 1973): 1–34.
10. See Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Cf. John A. Moorhouse, "The Mechanistic Foundations of Economic Analysis," Reason Papers 4 (Winter 1978): 49–67.
11. Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century,
the first of a projected four-volume series. Despite the socialist
bias, and the propensity to reify the concept of capitalism, there is
much of value in his work to certainly justify the ferment it created
in sociology. Wallerstein devotes great attention to the institution of
the State. But in the end his Marxian outlook prevents him from
acknowledging the State as the most significant variable.
12. Jensen, Within America, 2.
13. See, for example, Dale Yoder, "Current Definitions of Revolution," American Journal of Sociology 32 (November 1926): 433–441.
A number of writers agree that certain preliminary circumstances are
preconditions before any revolution can occur. Revolutions have tended
to occur not in impoverished and retrogressive societies, but rather in
those societies where significant advances had been under way. If the
following terminology is different, the concepts are similar. Edwards
refers to the "balked disposition;" Crane Brinton describes those who
felt their situation "cramped;" James C. Davies posits a "J-curve"—a
growing gap between expectations and results; and Ted Gurr's idea of
relative deprivation. All derive from social psychology concepts of
frustration-aggression. J.C. Davies, "Toward a Theory of Revolution," American Sociological Review 27 (February 1962): 5–19; Ted Robert Gurr, Why Men Rebel.
The ancients were also aware that rapid change caused instability. In
this regard, Aristotle made clear that a widely-based middle class was
the greatest impediment to revolution. Despite all the "modern"
theorizing, Aristotle's Politics, Part V, wherein he discusses
revolution, is still well worth reading. Yet, however insightful the
thesis of frustration-aggression seems, by itself this concept is too
broad and general to be useful in understanding revolution.
15. Brinton, The Anatomy of Revolution, 44–52.
Edwards' understanding of the revolutionary process appears more subtle
than that of the more famous work by Brinton. Brinton lost an important
idea when he changed one of Edwards' key points, the "transfer of the
allegiance of the intellectuals" to the "desertion of the
intellectuals." "Transfer of allegiance," however, implies a sense of a
loss of legitimacy or legality which far transcends the notion of mere
support as a kind of cooperation.
17. Karl Deutsch indicated some years ago he had a study of legitimacy in progress. See also Claus Mueller, The Politics of Communication: A Study in the Political Sociology of Language, Socialization, and Legitimation; and Ronald Rogowski, Rational Legitimacy: Theory of Political Support.
18. Kuhn, Structure.
19. See, especially, Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge.
20. William Marina, Egalitarianism and Empire, suggests three sources of values: supernaturalism, natural law, and statist, positive law.
21. Kuhn, Structure,
10. Kuhn began with a discussion of "normal science," which he defined
as "research firmly based upon one or more past scientific
achievements, achievements that some particular scientific community
acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further
practice." This "body of accepted theory…served for a time implicitly
to define the legitimate [emphasis added] problems and methods
of a research field for succeeding generations of practitioners." He
concluded that "Men whose research is based on shared paradigms are
committed to the same rules and standards for scientific practice. That
commitment and the apparent consensus it produces are prerequisites for
normal science, i.e., the genesis and continuation of a particular
research tradition." Cf. Murray Rothbard, "Ludwig von Mises and the
Paradigm for our Age," Modern Age (Fall 1971).
22. One is reminded of the marvelous symbol of authority, the conch shell, in William Golding's forceful study, The Lord of the Flies.
23. Washington Post, April 12, 1966.
24. "'Ideology' and an Economic Interpretation of The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism,' 159–185. See also T.F. Carney, The Shape of the Past: Models and Antiquity.
25. Thomas C. Barrow, "The American Revolution as a Colonial War for Independence," William and Mary Quarterly, 3d series, 25 (1968): 452–464.
This outlook which permeates so many of the writings and correspondence
of the revolutionary generation is captured in the title of John A.
Schutz and Douglass Adair, eds., The Spur of Fame: Dialogues of John Adams and Benjamin Rush, 1805–1813.
27. J.R. Pole's "Loyalists, Whigs, and the Idea of Equality," in Esmond Wright, ed., A Tug of Loyalities: Anglo-American Relations, 1765–1785, 66–92; and Pole's B.K. Smith Lecture in Social Radicalism and the Idea of Equality in the American Revolution.
Of the recent writings on the idea of equality, perhaps the most
important, certainly with the most complete bibliography, is Herbert J.
Gans, More Equality, though my own model and the direction of my thought is quite different from Gans's.
My essay can profitably be read in conjunction with the bibliographical
essay of Professor Murray Rothbard published in the first issue of the Literature of Liberty.
I hope soon to publish an expanded version of these observations on
revolution and change in relation to the American Revolution, to be
entitled, The American Revolution as a People's War: A Refutation
of the Widely-Held Minority Myth, and Some Reflections on the
Revolution from the Perspective of the Sociology of Revolution and a
Theory of Social Change in an Age of Continuing Upheaval.
Why did the Revolution Occur?
29. Quoted in Alfred Cobban, New Cambridge Modern History. Vol. 7, 102.
30. Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution.
31. David Jacobson, The English Libertarian Heritage, Introduction; Clinton Rossiter, Seedtime of the Republic; Carl Degler, Out of Our Past: The Forces that Shaped Modern America; Eric Foner, Tom Paine and Revolutionary America.
See, for example, Trenchard and Gordon's essay, "Of the Equality and
Inequality of Men," written in 1721, and reprinted in Jacobson, Heritage, 101–106.
33. Discussed in Robert G. Wesson, State Systems: International Pluralism in History, forthcoming.
34. Pocock, Machiavellian, 156, 191.
35. Pocock, 194, 208.
See especially his discussions of social tensions in Chapter 2, "The
Parchment and the Fire"; of mobility and freedom in Chapter 3,
"Masterless Men," as well as that of the relationship between the
Levellers and the Army; the distinction between "Levellers and True
Levellers" in Chapter 7; the reaction in Chapter 17, "The World
Restored"; the conclusion, Chapter 18; and Appendices 1 and 2: "Hobbes
and Winstanly: Reason and Politics"; and Melton and Bunyan: Dialogue
with the Radicals." Given these parallels with the English Revolution,
it was perceptive and appropriate that the English military band at the
Yorktown surrender in 1781 should play "The World Turned Upside Down."
Also see Perez Zagorin, The Court and the Country.
37. Caroline Robbins, The
Eighteenth Century Commonwealthman, Studies in the Transmission,
Development and Circumstance of English Liberal Thought from the
Restoration of Charles II until the War with the Thirteen Colonies. Also see J.P. Kenyon, Revolution Principles, 1689–1720, especially 102–127.
38. Cf. Pocock, Machiavellian, 424, 426.
39. Forrest McDonald, The Phaeton Ride: The Crisis of American Success, especially the first part of Chapter 2, "The Populists and the Predators."
Rodger Durrell Parker, "The Gospel of Opposition: A Study in Eighteenth
Century Anglo-American Ideology," doctoral dissertation, Wayne State
University, 1975, University Microfilm publication 76–10, 990.
41. See, for example, Carroll Quigley, The Evolution of Civilizations; and, on China, Mark Elvin, The Pattern of the Chinese Post: A Social and Economic Interpretation.
The most obvious example is, of course, Adam Smith. Another is Tom
Paine. Both favored the Financial Revolution but not State interference.
43. Pocock, Machiavellian,
210–211, 391–399, 468–469. The less extreme version of this idea in
Harrington and in Trenchard and Gordon "had in mind not so much a
leveling of property as 'an agrarian law, or something like it' to
ensure that no individual or group became so rich as to reduce the
others to dependence." Pocock, Machiavellian, 468, and quoting from Cato's Letters.
The "something" indicates how far were the Commonwealthmen from any
worked out plan or agreement about how to deal with extremes of wealth
in their republican conceptualization, whether agrarian or commercial.
44. As Pocock observes:
"We have already seen that neither [Andrew] Fletcher nor [Daniel]
Defoe operated in terms of a simple opposition between land and
trade—which should warn us against expecting Augustan politics to look
like a simple confrontation between gentleman and merchant—but that
each indicates in opposite ways the difficulties of constructing a
fully legitimized history out of the movement from one principle to the
Unlike McDonald or Parker, who place Charles Davenant in the Country
camp, Pocock appreciates the subtlety of shifting positions and the
relationship of all of this to statism and war: "Davenant, more than
Fletcher, [John] Toland, or (at this time) Trenchard, was engrossed in
the problem of war's ability to generate corrupting forms of finance;
and while a major significance of his thought to us is that he looked
beyond the problem of trade to that of credit, he did so in the context
provided by war." Pocock, Machiavellian, 436–437.
45. See, again, Pocock, Machiavellian,
especially Chapter 12, "The Anglicization of the Republic: B) Court,
Country and Standing Army"; Chapter 13, "Neo-Machiavellian Political
Economy: The Augustan Debate over Land, Trade and Credit"; and Chapter
14, "The Eighteenth Century Debate: Virtue, Passion and Commerce." One
is reminded of W.A. Williams's comment that Charles A. Beard was
"almost" a socialist—a very wide gap indeed.
46. In Kurtz and Hutson, Essays on the American Revolution, 256–288.
47. Berthoff and Murrin, "Feudalism," 257. The reference is to Jameson, Social Movement, and Frederick B. Tolles, "The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement: A Reevaluation," American Historical Review 60 (1954–1955): 1–12. Also see Thomas C. Barrow, "The American Revolution as a Colonial War for Independence," William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser. 25 (1968): 464, quoted in Berthoff and Murrin, "Feudalism," 259.
48. Berthoff and Murrin, 258, quoting Gordon S. Wood, "Rhetoric and Reality in the American Revolution," William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser. 23 (1966): 31.
49. Berthoff and Murrin, 261.
50. Berthoff and Murrin, 262–263.
Berthoff and Murrin, 264–265. Another who takes this view of the
importance of feudalism in the coming of the Revolution is Robert A.
Nisbet, The Social Impact of the Revolution. If I had to
recommend a single selection about the meaning of the American
Revolution, I believe I would choose Nisbet's perceptive little
twenty-three page pamphlet. He advocates a comparative approach, and in
arguing it was a real social revolution against feudalism, makes the
"More than any other type of social organization, feudalism seems
not only to invite but to succumb to revolution…. because it virtually
consecrates inequality—the prime cause of revolution everywhere, as
Tocqueville pointed out—and…succumbs rather easily because of its
seeming inability to command wide loyalties…. [A]ll the revolutions of
modern history have been those launched against systems more nearly
feudal than capitalist." (p. 3).
Nisbet suggests there might have been no social revolution "without
a precipitating war in which ideological values were strong." War has
accompanied each of the great revolutions, and "[t]he link between war
and revolution is both existentially and historically close" (p. 9).
Among the revolutionary changes he sees are: relation between land and
the family (primogeniture and entail) over thirteen separate colonies,
confiscation of estates, religious freedom, and some change in
attitudes toward slavery (pp. 10–16).
In proclaiming the American Revolution in every way a true social
revolution, Nisbet thinks we err in making terror the "touchstone of
revolution": for "[t]o deny the status of revolution because of the
absence of these qualities is like denying the status of war because of
the absence of atrocities." It was hardly a local affair, and again we
err if we "ignore the libertarian currents that the event set off
throughout the world" (p. 23).
52. Berthoff and Murrin, 266–267. Herbert Aptheker's The American Revolution,
some years ago, mentioned the rapidly growing sums of quit-rents in the
years just prior to the Revolution. Tocqueville was the first to point
to this relationship of what might really be called a pseudofeudalism.
This kind of reactionary statism has almost nothing to do with market
capitalism, and as Berthoff and Murrin note, "After 50 years of
attempts to interpret the French Revolution in terms of a clash between
a feudal and capitalistic order, many historians are now moving quite
decisively back toward Tocqueville."
53. "Violence and the American Revolution" in Kurtz and Hutson, Essays, 81–120, and Alfred F. Young, The Democratic Republicans of New York: The Origins, 1763–1797.
54. Berthoff and Murrin, 274.
55. Berthoff and Murrin, 274.
56. Berthoff and Murrin, 274–275. A recent, excellent study on the period after 1775 is Robert A. Gross, The Minutemen and Their World, a careful analysis of Concord during the War.
57. Berthoff and Murrin, 281.
58. The Social Structure of Revolutionary America, 286, cited in Berthoff and Murrin, 280.
59. "The Social Origins of the American Revolution: An Evaluation and an Interpretation," Political Science Quarterly 87 (1973): 1–22; Kenneth A. Lockridge, "Social Change and the Meaning of the American Revolution," Journal of Social History 6 (1973): 403–439, which outlines a number of points similar to Berthoff and Murrin.
Who Formed the Revolutionary Coalition?
60. In G.H. Guttridge, "Adam Smith on the American Revolution: an Unpublished Memorial," American Historical Review 38 (1933): 714–720.
61. See Richard Maxwell Brown, "Violence and the American Revolution," in Kurtz and Hutson, Essays,
81–120, and the numerous bibliographical items noted therein. Also
awaited is publication of Alfred Young's study of the radical political
uses of traditional Boston carnivals and parades.
See Gary B. Nash, "Social Change and the Growth of Prerevolutionary
Urban Radicalism"; Edward Countryman, "'Out of the Bounds of the Law':
Northern Land Rioters in the Eighteenth Century"; Marvin L. Michael
Kay, "The North Carolina Regulation, 1766–1776: A Class Conflict"; Dirk
Hoerder, "Boston Leaders and Boston Crowds, 1765–1776"; and Ronald
Hoffman, "The 'Disaffected' in the Revolutionary South," all in Alfred
F. Young, ed., The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism.
63. Edmund and Helen Moragn, The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution.
64. In Murray N. Rothbard, Advance to Revolution, 1760–1775, Vol. III of Conceived in Liberty, 90.
65. See, for example, Lawrence H. Gipson, Jared Ingersoll; Alan Rogers, Empire and Liberty: American Resistance to British Authority, 1755–1763; Schlesinger, The Colonial Merchants and the American Revolution, 1763–1776; and Jensen, Founding.
66. Jensen, Founding; Richard D. Brown, Revolutionary Politics in Massachusetts: The Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Towns, 1772–1774; and J.R. Pole, Political Representation in England and the Origins of the American Republic.
67. Guttridge, "Smith."
68. Pole, Equality, Chapter 2.
69. The Age of Democratic Revolution, Vol. I, 185–190.
70. The best interpretation of this process over the whole revolutionary era is Merrill Jensen, The American Revolution Within America. See also Library of Congress, Leadership in the American Revolution, papers presented at a Symposium.
There has been of late considerable literature on the Loyalists,
perhaps the best (with a very complete bibliographical essay) is Robert
McClure Calhoon, The Loyalist in Revolutionary America 1760–1781.
How Was The Revolution Fought Militarily
72. Quoted in Ferdinand E. Banks, Scarcity, Energy, and Economic Progress, xvii.
73. Lewis H. Gann, Guerrillas in History, 92.
74. James W. Pohl, "The American Revolution and the Vietnamese War: Pertinent Military Analogies," The History Teacher 7 (February 1974): 259.
75. See, for example, David V.I. Bell and Allan E. Goodman, "Vietnam and the American Revolution," Yale Review
61 (Fall 1971): 26–34; Roy K. Flint, "The Web of Victory: Revolutionary
Warfare in Eighteenth Century America, (West Point: mimeograph, 1976);
and the following by John Shy: "The American Revolution: The Military
Conflict Considered as a Revolutionary War," in Kurtz and Hutson, Essays, 121–156, also reprinted in Shy's A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence, in which several essays reflect the influence of Vietnam; Shy, "The American Revolution Today," in Stanley J. Unterdal, ed., Military History of the American Revolution, 18–32, especially 21; and Shy, "Charles Lee: The Soldier as Radical," in George Athan Billias, George Washington's Generals, 22–53.
Washington, himself, used the term "protract," and Hamilton understood
the same tactic of keeping an army in the field, avoiding a direct
confrontation except on one's own terms, and harassing the enemy
piecemeal. This is discussed in William Marina, "The American
Revolution and the Minority Myth," Modern Age 20 (Summer 1976): 298–309; and William Marina, "The American Revolution as a People's War," Reason 8 (July 1976): 28–38.
77. Smith, New Age, passim.
78. Jonathan Gregory Rossie, The Politics of Command in the American Revolution. Rossie mentions that his interest in the subject was inspired by Bernard Knollenberg's Washington and the Revolution: A Reappraisal, published some 35 years earlier. Bernhard A. Uhlendorf, translator and annotator, Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces, especially 146. Marion Balderston and David Syrett, The Lost War: Letters from British Officers During the American Revolution.
John Shy, "Hearts and Minds in the American Revolution: The Case of
'Long Bill' Scott and Peterborough, New Hampshire," in Shy, People,
168. On this motive in Vietnam, going back to the French period and the
breakup of the integrity of village life, see the works of the French
sociologist Paul Mus, Frances Fitzgerald, and also John T. McAlister,
Jr., Vietnam: Origins of the Revolution. See also Larry G. Bowman, Captive Americans: Prisoners during the American Revolution.
79. See also Lois F. Schwoerer, "The Literature of the Standing Army Controversy," Huntington Library Quarterly 28 (1964–1965): 187–212.
80. Richard H. Kohn, "The Murder of the Militia System in the Aftermath of the American Revolution," in Unterdal, Military History, 110–126; and Kohn, Eagle and Sword: The Federalists and the Creation of the Military Establishment in America, 1783–1802.
As noted earlier, that fear of standing armies as in herently opposed
to republicanism went back through Harrington and Machiavelli (himself
a militia organizer) to Roman historians such as Tacitus. See Pocock, Machiavellian Moment, passim.
81. Smith, New Age, I, 131–132.
82. Solomon Lutnick, The American Revolution and the British Press, 1775–1783, 124–125, and Smith, New Age, II 1068–1074.
The episode of the Carlisle Peace Commission might, in some ways, be
considered the first "credibility gap" in American history. Up to that
point, one cannot but be struck by the extent to which action any
dialogue in the American revolutionary coalition—despite the fact that
it is, after all, the function of leaders to lead—had an enormously
grass roots quality. As writers such as Knollenberg and Jensen note,
the radicalness of the populace sometimes outran the leadership. In a
sense, 1778 was a turning point, for, having established the legitimacy
of the Revolutionary consensus around independence, the leadership now
demonstrated less willingness to discuss specific alternatives which
would require sacrifice for goals beyond this basic consensus.
84. Shy, "Military Conflict," in People, 216–217.
Despite a rather cool assessment by Shy, I find the Leiby volume a gold
mine of information about the dynamics of revolutionary war in a
contested area. A twenty page case study-summary is in William Marina, The American Revolution as a People's War, forthcoming.
86. Goetschius understood that such irregular forces fought best in defending their home area.
87. John Ellis, Armies in Revolution, 170; and Carroll Quigley notes:
The hope of the future does not rest, as commonly believed, in
winning the peoples of the "buffer fringe" to one superpower or the
other, but rather in the invention of new weapons and new tactics that
will be so cheap to obtain and so easy to use that they will increase
the effectiveness of guerrilla warfare so greatly that the employment
of our present weapons of mass destruction will become futile and, on
this basis, there can be a revival of democracy and of political
decentralization in all three parts of our present world.
The Evolution of Civilizations, 259.
What Was the Revolution's Political and Constitutional Resolution?
88. Quoted in Herbert Aptheker, Early Years of the Republic: From the End of the Revolution to the First Administration of Washington, (1783–1793), Vol. III of A History of the American People, 14.
89. Lee Benson, Turner & Beard: American Historical Writing Reconsidered, 215; Charles A. Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.
90. Benson, 219–220, 221, 217.
91. Benson, 227.
92. See Moore, Social Origins, for a good discussion of Catonism.
93. Wood, Creation, 70.
94. Wood, Creation, 70–71.
95. Wood, Creation,
72. Wood comments further: "By the middle of the eighteenth century the
peculiarities of social development in the New World had created an
extraordinary society, remarkably equal yet simultaneously unequal, a
society so contradictory in its nature that it left contemporaries
puzzled and later historians divided. [Wood cites, for example, Jackson
Turner Main, The Social Structure of Revolutionary America; and Robert E. and B. Katherine Brown, Virginia, 1705–1786; Democracy or Aristocracy?
It was, as many observers noted, a society strangely in conflict with
itself. On one hand, social distinctions and symbols of status were
highly respected and intensely coveted, indeed, said one witness, even
more greedily than by the English themselves. Americans, it seemed,
were in 'one continued Race: in which everyone is endeavoring to
distance all behind him; and to overtake or pass by, all before him.'
Yet, on the other hand, Americans found all these displays of
superiority of status particularly detestable, in fact 'more odious
than in any other country.'" Had Wood studied comparative
civilizations, he would not have found this such an "extraordinary"
phenomenon. It is characteristic of the expansionistic phase of any
civilization, especially with respect to frontier areas.
96. Gordon S. Wood, "Rhetoric and Reality in the American Revolution, William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser. 23 (1966), which discusses especially Virginia, and Berthoff and Murrin, "Feudalism," examined at length above.
97. Wood, Creation,
79. The efforts of several "neo-conservatives" to eliminate the social
tensions and ambiguities of equality/egalitarianism, and to create a
consensus view of the American past, are implausible. Irving Kristol or
Martin Diamond give the impression that egalitarianism was not present
in the era of the Founding Fathers, who are portrayed as having a
virtual agreement around a conservative Lockean view of political
equality. See, for example, Martin Diamond, "The Idea of Equality: The
View from the Founding," in Walter Nicgorski and Ronald Weber, eds., An Almost Chosen People: The Moral Aspirations of Americans, 19–37.
98. For a critique of some of Jensen's earlier views, see Richard Morris, The American Revolution Reconsidered, especially the chapter on "Confederation and Constitution."
99. William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser. 29 (January 1972): 49–80.
100. In Burton J. Williams, ed., Essays in Honor of James C. Malin, 192–220.
101. I hope to deal with this interpretation in much greater detail in The American Revolution as a People's War, forthcoming.
102. Jensen, Within America, 193.
103. Pole, Equality,
112–113, points out that under the Articles, retaining of "local
preferences" meant that there was not equality for all citizens of the
United States. Only a Constitution would guarantee the search for
national institutions and identity. It is interesting that the areas of
the coast and frontier that went heavily for the Constitution as
described in Jackson Turner Main, The Anti-Federalists: Critics of the Constitution, 1781–1788, were the same areas that Nelson, Tory,
notes as the bastions of Loyalist strength. One suspects a large number
of votes for the Constitution came from those formerly of Tory sympathy.
A model, useful for developing further the distinction between Locals and Cosmopolitans, is Jackson Turner Main, Political Parties Before the Constitution.
Just one piece of evidence can be cited to show that Locals were not
necessarily for small government: they tended to favor increasing the
salaries of officials. This fits in with the notion of "new" men who
saw expanding local and state government as a means for advancement.
Ammerman, David. In the Common Cause: American Response to the Coercive Acts of 1774. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1974.
Aptheker, Herbert. The American Revolution 1763–1783. New York: International Publishing Service, 1960.
———A History of the American People. Vol. 3: The Early Years of
the Republic: From the End of the Revolution to the First
Administration of Washington (1783–1793). New York: International Publishing Service, 1976.
Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge: Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 1967.
Balderston, Marion and Syrett, David. The Lost War: Letters from British Officers During the American Revolution. New York: Horizon Publishing, 1975.
Barrow, Thomas C. "The American Revolution as a Colonial War for Independence." William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 25 (1968): 452–464.
Beard, Charles A. An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. New York: Macmillan & Co., 1935.
Becker, Carl. The History of Political Parties in the Province of New York. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1960.
Bell, David V.I. and Goodman, Allen E., "Vietnam and the American Revolution," Yale Review 61 (Fall 1971).
Benson, Lee. Turner and Beard: American Historical Writing Reconsidered. New York: Free Press, 1965.
Berkin, Carol R. "Jonathan Boucher: The Loyalist as Rebel." In West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences: The American Revolution: The Home Front 15 (June 1976) Carrollton, Georgia.
Berthoff, Rowland and Murrin, John M. "Feudalism, Communalism and
the Yeoman Freeholder: The American Revolution Considered as a Social
Accident." In Essays on the American Revolution. Edited by S. Kurtz and J. Hutson. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1973.
Billias, George Athan. George Washington's Generals. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1964.
Bowman, Allan. The Morale of the American Revolutionary Army. Washington, D.C.: American Council on Economic Affairs, 1943.
Bowman, Larry G. Captive Americans: Prisoners during the American Revolution. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1973.
Brinton, Crane. The Anatomy of Revolution. New York: Vintage, 1957.
Brown, Richard D. Revolutionary Politics in Massachusetts: The Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Towns, 1772–1774. New York: Norton, 1976.
Brown, Richard Maxwell, "Violence in the American Revolution." In Essays on the American Revolution. Edited by S. Kurtz and J. Hutson. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1973.
Brown, Robert E. and Brown, Katherine B. Virginia, 1705–1786: Democracy or Aristocracy? East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1964.
Brown, Weldon A. Empire or Independence: A Study in the Failure of Reconciliation 1774–1783.
Calhoon, Robert McClure. The Loyalist in Revolutionary America. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973.
Callahan, North. Daniel Morgan: Ranger of the Revolution. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961.
Carney, T.F. The Shape of the Past: Models and Antiquity. Lawrence, Kansas: Coronado Press, 1975.
Cobban, Alfred. In New Cambridge Modern History. Vol. 7. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951.
Cometti, Elizabeth. "The Labor Front During the Revolution." In West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences: The American Revolution: The Home Front 15 (June 1976) Carrollton, Georgia.
Countryman, Edward. "Out of Bounds of the Law: Northern Land Rioters in the Eighteenth Century." In The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism. Edited by Alfred F. Young, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967.
Daniell, Jere R. Experiment in Republicanism: New Hampshire Politics and the American Revolution 1741–1794. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970.
Daniels, Bruce E. "Emerging Urbanism and Increasing Social Satisfaction." In West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences: The American Revolution: The Home Front 15 (June 1976) Carrollton, Georgia.
Davies, J.C. "Toward a Theory of Revolution." American Sociological Review 27 (February 1962).
Degler, Carl. Out of Our Past: The Forces that Shaped Modern America. (Revised edition) New York: Harper and Row, 1970.
Douglass, Elisha P. Rebels and Democrats: The Struggle for Equal Political rights and Majority Rule during the American Revolution. New York: Quadrangle Books, 1965.
Edwards, Lyford P. The Natural History of Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1927.
Ellis, John. Armies in Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.
Elvin, Mark. The Pattern of the Chinese Past: A Social and Economic Interpretation. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1973.
Ernst, Joseph. "'Ideology' and an Economic Interpretation of the Revolution." In The American Revolution: Explorations of the History of American Radicalism. Edited by Alfred F. Young. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967.
Flint, Roy K. "The Web of Victory: Revolutionary Warfare in Eighteenth Century America." (West Point, Mimeograph, 1976).
Foley, Vernard. The Social Physics of Adam Smith. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 1976.
Foner, Eric. Tom Paine and the American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.
Gann, Lewis H. Guerrillas in History. Stanford: Hoover Institute Press (Study Series No. 28), 1971.
Gans, Herbert J. More Equality. New York: Pantheon Press, 1973.
Gipson, Lawrence H. Jared Ingersoll. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1962.
Greene, Jack P. "The Social Origins of the American Revolution: An Evaluation and an Interpretation." Political Science Quarterly 87 (1973): 1–22.
Gross, Robert A. The Minutemen and Their World. New York: Hill and Wang, 1976.
Gurr, Ted Robert. Why Men Rebel. Princeton: Princeton, University Press, 1970.
Gutteridge, G.H. "Adam Smith on the American Revolution: An Unpublished Memorial." American Historical Review 38 (1933): 714–720.
Head, John M. A Time to Rend: An Essay on the Decision for American Independence. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1968.
Henretta, James A. "Southern Social Structure and the American War for Independence." In West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences: The American Revolution: The Home Front 15 (June 1976) Carrollton, Georgia.
Higginbotham, Dan. Daniel Morgan: Revolutionary Rifleman. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961.
——— The War of American Independence: Military Attitudes, Policies, and Practices 1763–1789. New York: Macmillan & Co., 1971.
Hill, Christopher. The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution. New York: Viking Press, 1972.
Hoerder, Dirk. "Boston Leaders and Boston Crowds, 1765–1776." In The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism. Edited by Alfred F. Young. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1967.
Hoffman, Ronald. "The 'Disaffected' in the Revolutionary South." In The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism. Edited by Alfred F. Young. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967.
Jacobson, David L., ed., The English Libertarian Heritage. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965.
Jameson, Franklin J. The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1940.
Jensen, Merrill. The American Revolution Within America. New York: New York University Press, 1974.
———Founding of A Nation: A History of the American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.
Kay, Marvin L. Michael. "The North Carolina Regulation, 1766–1776: A Class Conflict." In The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism. Edited by Alfred F. Young. Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1967.
Kenyon, J.P.Revolution Principles 1689–1720. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1977.
Knollenburg, Bernard. Washington and the Revolution: A Reappraisal: Gates, Conway, and the Continental Congress (Reprint of 1940 edition). Hamden, Connecticut: Shoe String Press, 1968.
Kohn, Richard H. Eagle and Sword: The Federalists and the Creation of the Military Establishment in America 1783–1802. New York: Free Press, 1975.
———. "The Murder of the Militia System in the Aftermath of the American Revolution." In Military History of the American Revolution. Edited by Stanley J. Unterdal. Colorado Springs: United States Air Force Academy, 1974.
Krammick, Isaac. Bolingbroke and His Circle: The Politics of Nostalgia in the Age of Walpole. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968.
Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.
Kurtz, Stephen G. and Hutson, James H., eds. Essays on the American Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1973.
Leiby, Adrian. The American Revolutionary War in the Hackensack Valley: The Jersey Dutch and the Neutral Ground 1775–1783. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1963.
Library of Congress. Leadership in the American Revolution. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1974.
Lockridge, Kenneth A. "Social Change and the Meaning of the American Revolution." Journal of Social History 6 (1973): 403–439.
Lutnick, Solomon. The American Revolution and the British Press, 1775–1783. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1967.
Main, Jackson Turner. The Social Structure of Revolutionary America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976.
———. The Anti-Federalists: Critics of the Constitution 1781–1788. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1974.
———. Political Parties Before the Constitution, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1973.
McAlister, Jr., John T. Viet Nam: Origins of the Revolution. New York: Knopf, 1969.
McDonald, Forrest: The Phaeton Ride: The Crisis of American Success. New York: Doubleday, 1974.
Mannheim, Karl. Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Harvest Books, 1936.
Marina, William. "The American Revolution as a People's War." Reason 8 (July 1976).
———. "The American Revolution and the Minority Myth." Modern Age 20 (Summer 1976).
———. Egalitarianism and Empire. Menlo Park, California: Institute for Humane Studies, 1975.
Martin, James Kirby. Men in Rebellion: Higher Governmental Leaders and the Coming of the American Revolution. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1973.
Moore, Jr., Barrington. Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World. Boston: Beacon Press, 1966.
Moorhouse, John A. "The Mechanistic Foundation of Economic Analysis." Reason 4 (Winter 1978): 48.
Morgan, Edmund, and Morgan, Helen. The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution. rev. ed. New York: Collier Books, 1963.
Morris, Richard B. The American Revolution Reconsidered. New York: Harper and Row, 1967.
Mueller, Claus. The Politics of Communication: A Study in the Political Sociology of Language, Socialization, and Legitimation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.
Nash, Gary B. "Social Change and the Growth of Prerevolutionary Urban Radicalism." In The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism. Edited by Alfred F. Young. Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1976.
Nelson, William H. The American Tory. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.
Nettles, Curtis P. George Washington and American Independence. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1951.
Nevins, Allan. The American States During and After the Revolution 1775–1789. New York: Macmillan, 1924.
Nicgorski, Walter, and Weber, Ronald, eds. An Almost Chosen People: The Moral Aspirations of Americans. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1977.
Nisbet, Robert A. Social Change and History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.
———. The Social Impact of the Revolution. Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1974.
Palmer, Dave Richard. The Way of the Fox: American Strategy in the War for America 1775–1783 (Contributions to Military History Series, No. 8) Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1974.
Palmer, R.R. The Age of Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760–1800. Vol. 1, The Challenge. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.
Parker, Roger Durrell. "The Gospel of Opposition: A Study in
Eighteenth Century Anglo-American Ideology." Doctoral dissertation,
Wayne State University, 1975, University Microfilm publication 76–10,
Pocock, J.G.A. The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republic Tradition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975.
Pohl, James W. "The American Revolution and the Vietnamese War: Pertinent Military Analogies." The History Teacher 7 (February 1974).
Pole, J.R. "B.K. Smith Lecture" in Social Radicalism and the Idea of Equality in the American Revolution. Houston: University of Saint Thomas Press, 1976.
———. The Decision for American Independence. New York: Lippincott, 1975.
———. "Loyalists, Whigs, and the Idea of Equality." In A Tug of Loyalties: Anglo-American Relations, 1765–1785.
Edited by Esmond Wright, Institute of United States Studies (Monograph
Series No. 2) Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Athlone Press.
———. Political Representation in England and the Origins of the American Republic. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1966.
———. The Pursuit of Equality in American History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.
Quigley, Carroll. The Evolution of Civilizations. New York: McMillan, 1961.
Quinlivan, Mary E. "From Pragmatic Accommodation to Principles
Action: The Revolution and Religious Establishment in Virginia." In West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences: The American Revolution: The Home Front 15 (June 1976) Carrollton, Georgia.
Ramsey, David. History of the American Revolution. (2 Vols., Reprint of 1789 Edition). New York: Russell & Russell, 1968.
Rankin, Hugh F. Francis Marion: The Swamp Fox. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1973.
Richter, Melvin. "The Uses of Theory: Tocqueville's Adaptation of Montesquieu." In Essays in Theory and History. Edited by M. Richter. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970.
Robbins, Caroline. The Eighteenth Century Commonwealthman,
Studies in the Transmission, Development and Circumstance of English
Liberal Thought from the Restoration of Charles II until the War with
the Thirteen Colonies. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959.
Rogers, Alan. Empire and Liberty: American Resistance to British Authority, 1755–1763. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.
Rogowski, Ronald. Rational Legitimacy: Theory of Political Support. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974.
Rossie, Jonathan Gregory. The Politics of Command in the American Revolution. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1975.
Rossiter, Clinton. Seedtime of the Republic. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch, 1953.
Rothbard, Murray. Conceived in Liberty, Vol. 3: Advance to Revolution 1760–1775. New York: Arlington House, 1976.
———. "Ludwig von Mises and the Paradigm for our Age." Modern Age (Fall 1971).
———. "Modern Historians Confront the American Revolution." Literature of Liberty 1 (January-March 1978) 16–41.
Schlesinger, Sr., Arthur M. Colonial Merchants and the American Revolution 1763–1776. New York: Columbia University Press, 1918.
Schultz, John A. and Adair, Douglas, eds., The Spur of Fame: Dialogues of John Adams and Benjamin Rush 1805–1813.
Schwoerer, Lois F. "The Literature of the Standing Army Controversy." Huntington Library Quarterly 28 (1964–1965) 187–212.
———. "No Standing Armies!" The Antiarmy Ideology in Seventeenth Century England. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1974.
Shalhope, Robert E. "Toward a Republican Synthesis: The Emergence of Republicanism in American Historiography." William and Mary Quarterly. 3d Series, 298 (January 1972): 49–80.
Shy, John. "The American Revolution: Military Conflict Considered as a Revolutionary War." In Essays on the American Revolution. Edited by Stephen G. Kurtz and James H. Hutson. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1970.
———. "The American Revolution Today." In Military History of the American Revolution. Edited by Stanley J. Unterdal.
———. "Charles Lee: The Soldier as Radical." In George Washington's Generals. Edited by George Altan Billias. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1964.
———. A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.
Skaggs, David Curtis. "Flaming Patriots and Inflaming Demogogues:
The Role of the Maryland Militia in Revolutionary Society and
Politics." In Essays in American History in Honor of James C. Malin. Edited by Burton J. Williams. Lawrence, Kansas: Coronado Press, 1973.
Skocpol, Theda. "A Critical Review of Barrington Moore's Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy." Politics and Society 4 (Fall 1973).
Smith, Page. Historians and History. New York: Vintage, 1964.
———. A New Age Begins: A People's History of the American Revolution. 2 Vols. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.
Tolles, Frederick B. "The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement: A Reevaluation." American Historical Review 60 (1954–1955): 1–12.
Trenchard, John, and Thomas Gordon. Cato's Letters. (4 Vols in 2) Reprint 1775 ed., New York, Da Capo Press, 1971.
Turner, Jr., John J. "The Revolution, the Founding Fathers, and the Electoral College." In West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences: The American Revolution: The Home Front 15 (June 1976) Carrollton, Georgia.
Uhlendorf, Bernard A., trans., Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmuster of the Hessian Forces. (Reprint of 1957 edition.) Hampdon, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1973.
Unterdal, Stanley J. Military History of the American Revolution. Colorado Springs: United States Air Force Academy, 1974.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. The Modern World System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of European World Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Academic Press, 1974.
Weigley, Russel F. The Partisan War: The South Carolina Campaign of 1780–1782. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1971.
Wesson, Robert G. State Systems: International Pluralism in History. Forthcoming.
Wilhelm, Barbara R. "The American Revolution as a Leadership Crisis: The View of a Hardware Store Owner" in West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences: The American Revolution: The Home Front 15 (June 1976) Carrollton, Georgia.
Williams, Burton J., ed. Essays in American History in Honor of James C. Malin. Lawrence, Kansas: Coronado Press, 1973.
Williams, William Appleman. The Contours of American History. New York: Quadrangle Books, 1966.
Wise, Gene. American Historical Explanations: A Strategy for Grounded Inquiry. Homewood, Illinois: The Dorsey Press, 1973.
Wood, Gordon S. The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1970.
———. "Rhetoric and Reality in the American Revolution." William and Mary Quarterly 3d Series (1966) 31.
Wood, Jr., Jerome H. "'There Ought To Be No Distinction': The American Revolution and the Powerless" in West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences: The American Revolution: The Home Front 15 (June 1976) Carrollton, Georgia.
Yoder, Dale. "Current Definitions of Revolution." American Journal of Sociology 32 (November 1926).
Young, Alfred F., ed. The American Revolution: Exploration in the History of American Radicalism. Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1976.
———. The Democratic Republicans of New York: The Origins 1763–1797. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967.
Zagorin, Perez. The Court and the Country: The Beginning of the English Revolution. New York: Athaneum, 1971.
———. "Theories of Revolution in Contemporary Historiography." Political Science Quarterly 88 (1973) 28–29.