Author Topic: American Insurgents, American Patriots by T.H. Breen  (Read 5190 times)

Pain Killer

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American Insurgents, American Patriots by T.H. Breen
« on: August 08, 2013, 04:19:20 PM »
I just wanted to review and recommend a book on the American Revolution that I read recently.  The book is American Insurgents, American Patriots:  The Revolution of the People by T.H. Breen, published in 2010.  I found it to be a very readable and interesting book that covered a lot of things of which even I (who have taught college history for seven years) was completely ignorant.  It was also a book that I found to be a wonderful complement to Paul Revere’s Ride and other works about Lexington and Concord, because it really puts the events of April 19 in a broader context.

Here’s the first paragraph of the book, to give you an idea of what it’s about:

“Two years before the Declaration of Independence, a young, evangelical colonial population accomplished something truly extraordinary.  In small communities from New Hampshire to Georgia, it successfully challenged the authority of Great Britain, then the strongest empire in the world.  The vast majority of Americans have never heard the people’s story.  Instead, we have concentrated attention on the lives of a small group of celebrated leaders.  Without the people, however, there would have been no independent nation.  Confident of their God-given rights, driven by anger against an imperial government that treated them like second-class subjects, American insurgents resisted parliamentary rule, first spontaneously, as loosely organized militants who purged the countryside of Crown officials, and then, increasingly after late-1774, as members of local committees of safety that became schools for revolution.”

The book focuses mostly on 1774-75, and mostly (though not exclusively) on New England.  It really plays up the fact of the matter, which was that the common people were taking matters into their own hands and really leading themselves to a large degree, with relatively little ‘leadership’ from the Continental Congress.  As Breen sums it up on p. 284:  “We should be clear on this point:  popular resistance to Great Britain compelled the members of Congress to accept independence.”  In other words, the people were leading themselves, and the Congress eventually followed them.  It’s pretty obvious given that fighting broke out in April of 1775, and independence wasn’t officially passed by Congress for fifteen months.

Breen looks into who these grassroots insurgents were, what motivated them, how they operated, and how British attempts to ‘crack down’ virtually always backfired and ended up strengthening support for the insurgents.  There’s coverage of the committees of safety and the various ways they operated.  (There’s some stuff in that section I found somewhat tedious, but overall the book was excellent.)  He also covers the organization of local militia independent from the governor’s (and hence the Crown’s) control, how boycotts were organized and enforced, and how relief efforts to Boston (when it was under blockade due to the Coercive Acts) mobilized activists from even distant colonies.  In the process, Breen illustrates how British officials simply ended up losing all aura of legitimacy amongst a large part of the population.  (Kind of reminds me of that famous John Adams quote we all know about how the real revolution was in the hearts and minds of the people, and was accomplished before the fighting started.)

Here’s Breen on that point:  “We should make clear at the start exactly what we mean by the American Revolution.  The sine qua non of our Revolution – indeed, of any successful revolution – was the willingness of a sufficient number of people to take up arms against an unelected imperial government that no longer served the common good.  This moment occurred in American sometime in mid-1774.  If we cannot explain why reasonably contented colonists suddenly decided to resist the representatives of the king’s government, with violence when necessary, then we will not fully understand the revolutionary character of our own Revolution.”

American Insurgents, American Patriots is a touch more scholarly in tone than Paul Revere’s Ride, but not by much.  For what it’s worth, I’d highly recommend it for anyone interested in making some additions to his or her Revolutionary history library.

Written by Prof CJ
"We have staked the whole of all our political Institutions upon the capacity of mankind for Self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to The Ten Commandments of God." - James Madison


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Re: American Insurgents, American Patriots by T.H. Breen
« Reply #1 on: October 09, 2013, 02:01:02 PM »
Pain Killer,
I agree about American Insurgents being a very important book.  Breen's clear understanding of the events around the First Powder Alarm, the Cambridge Tory Riot etc., the impact of the rumors of the destruction of Boston on the First Continental Congress and the importance of the Suffolk Resolves which were the Political response to the popular uprising.
These events were the direct cause of the Association (non-importation) act by the First Congress and the establishment of the Committees of Safety to enforce it.  Without the interaction between Revere and Warren in Boston and the various Committees in eastern Massachusetts there would have been no way to turn out 14,000 on April 19th, 1775. The Committees in effect become the government in many areas of many of the colonies.  This is what Fischer means by 'collective action' and Breen gives the ground level view of it.  Great stuff :)


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Re: American Insurgents, American Patriots by T.H. Breen
« Reply #2 on: October 18, 2013, 02:50:33 PM »
Excellent stuff. thanks for the heads up.