(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Children's Library | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences"

y. Ji>" 



» ,, , t , _.... .'■— ^ 



STUDIES IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES 



Volume XV 



June, 1976 



THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: 
THE HOME FRONT 




Published By 
WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE 

A Division of the University System of Georgia 
CARROLLTON, GEORGIA 



STUDIES IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES 



Volume XV June, 1976 



THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION 
THE HOME FRONT 



CONTENTS 

Page 

Contributors iii 

Foreword John C. Upchurch v 

Preface John E. Ferling vi 

Southern Social Structure and the 

American War for Independence James A. Henretta 1 

Emerging Urbanism and Increasing 

Social Stratification Bruce E. Daniels 15 

The Revolution, The Founding Fathers, and 

The Electoral College John J. Turner, Jr. 31 

The American Revolution as a Leadership Crisis: 
The View of a 
Hardware Store Owner Barbara R. Wilhelm 43 

From Pragmatic Accommodation to Principled Action: 
The Revolution and Religious Establishment in 
Virginia Mary E. Quinlivan 55 

Jonathan Boucher: The Loyalist as Rebel .... Carol R. Berkin 65 

The Labor Front During the Revolution . . . Elizabeth Cometti 79 

"There Ought To Be No Distinction:" 
The American Revolution and 
the Powerless Jerome H. Wood, Jr. 91 



Vol. II, 1963, Georgia in Transition. 

Vol. Ill, 1964, The New Europe. 

Vol. IV, 1965, The Changing Role of Government. 

Vol. V, 1966, Issues in the Cold War. 

Vol. VII, 1968, Social Scientists Speak on Community Development. 

Vol. VIII, 1969, Some Aspects of Black Culture. 

Vol. XI, 1972, Georgia Diplomats and Nineteenth Century Trade 
Expansion. 

Vol. XII, 1973, Geographic Perspectives on Southern Development. 

Vol. XIII, 1974, American Diplomatic History: Issues and Methods. 

Price, each title, $2.00 

Vol. XIV, 1975, Political Morality, Responsiveness, and Reform in 
America. 

Price, $3.00. 



Copyright ©, West Georgia College 

Printed in U.S.A. 

Thomasson Printing Co., Carrollton, Georgia 30117 

Price, $3.00 



CONTRIBUTORS 



BERKIN, CAROL R., is the author of Jonathan Sewall: Odessey of 
an American Loyalist (Columbia University Press, 1974) and Within 
the Conjurers Circle: Women in Colonial America (General Learning 
Press, 1974). She received the Bancroft Dissertation Award in 1974. 
Ms. Berkin received the Ph.D. degree from Columbia University and 
is presently an Associate Professor at Baruch College, CUNY. 

COMETTI, ELIZABETH, is Professor Emeritus at West Virginia 
University. Her forthcoming studies include Social Life in Virginia 
during the War for Independence (Colonial Williamsburg) and The 
American Journal of John Enys (Syracuse University Press). Ms. 
Cometti has edited Seeing America and Its Great Men (University of 
Virginia Press, 1969); her articles have appeared in numerous 
journals, including The Journal of Southern History, The New Eng- 
land Quarterly, and The William and Mary Quarterly. She received 
the Ph.D. degree from the University of Virginia. In addition to a 
Fulbright Professorship in Rome, Ms. Cometti has received grants 
from the American Philosophical Society and the Southern Fellow- 
ship Fund. 

DANIELS, BRUCE E., received the Ph.D. degree at the University 
of Connecticut and is presently an Assistant Professor at the Uni- 
versity of Winnipeg. He is the author of Connecticut s First Family: 
William Pitkin and His Connections (Pequot Press, 1975). His 
articles have appeared in The Canadian Journal of History, The Pro- 
ceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, and The Journal of 
American Studies. 

HENRETTA, JAMES A., is the author of Salutary Neglect (Prince- 
ton University Press, 1972) and The Evolution of American Society, 
1700-1815: An Interdisciplinary Analysis (D.C. Heath, 1973). He is a 
Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. Mr. Henretta 
was a fellow at the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American 
History, Harvard University, during 1975-1976. He received the 
Ph.D. degree from Harvard University. 

QUINLIVAN, MARY E., is an Associate Professor at the Univer- 
sity of Texas of the Permian Basin. She received the Ph.D. degree 
from the University of Wisconsin. Ms. Quinlivan was awarded a 
post-doctoral grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

TURNER, JOHN J., Jr., received the Ph.D. degree from Columbia 
University. His articles have appeared in The Historian, The New 
York Historical Society Quarterly, New York History, and The Pan- 

iii 



African Journal. He recently received an American Philosophical 
Society grant to edit the Peter Van Gaasbeek papers. Mr. Turner is a 
Professor at West Chester State College. 

WILHELM, BARBARA RIPEL, is a member of the History De- 
partment at Dowling College. She received the Ph.D. degree at 
S.U.N.Y. at Stony Brook. Ms. Wilhelm was an assistant to the editor 
of the Papers of James Madison project, and she has published in the 
William and Mary Quarterly. 

WOOD, JEROME H., Jr., is the author of Conestoga Crossroads: 
The Rise of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1730-1790 (Pa. Hist. & 
Museum Commission). His articles have been published by The 
Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, The New Eng- 
land Quarterly, and Mankind. "The Negro in Early Pennsylvania" 
appeared in Plantation, Town, and County, eds., Eugene Genovese 
and Elinor Miller. Mr. Wood received the Ph.D. degree from Brown 
University and is presently an Associate Professor at Swarthmore 
College. 



IV 



FOREWORD 



This volume continues the precedent of utilizing the services of 
a volume editor working under the loose supervision of a general 
editor, a policy initiated with the 1973 issue of Studies in the Social 
Sciences. Responsibility for selecting the theme of the present 
volume, the papers herein included, and initial editorial refinement 
was that of the volume editor. The role of the general editor was 
limited to broad consultation with the volume editor, final editing, 
and liaison with the printer. 

Volume topics for the past four issues of Studies have rotated 
among various social science disciplines. This year the choice 
devolved on West Georgia College's History Department, which 
selected a Bicentennial theme permitting historical exploration of the 
home front during the American Revolution. Clearly, on this our 
country's 200th year, a retrospective look at facets of this complex 
and critical topic ensures the timeliness of this issue. 

As in the past, this journal is financed partially by The University 
System of Georgia. It is distributed gratis to libraries of state sup- 
ported colleges and universities in Georgia and to selected institu- 
tions of higher learning in each southern state. Interested individuals 
or libraries may purchase copies for $3.00 each to help defray 
printing and mailing costs. Standing orders for the series are avail- 
able at reduced rates. 

It is with considerable pleasure that we submit to you this Bicen- 
tennial volume. 

John C. Upchurch 
Associate Professor and Chairman 
Department of Geography 
General Editor 



PREFACE 



The American struggle to separate from Great Britain has pro- 
voked two general lines of historical inquiry. Some historians have 
concerned themselves with the origins of the War for Independence. 
Other scholars have been more interested in the nature of the Ameri- 
can Revolution, that is, in the change— or lack of change— which 
occurred in American life during the War for Independence. 

The question of internal change during the Revolution was not 
seriously considered until early in this century. Then scholars of the 
so-called "Progressive" persuasion concluded that the independence 
movement originated in a deep-seated class conflict between the 
lower economic orders and the more affluent strata of colonial 
society. The less privileged classes, primarily small farmers and 
artisans, sought not only independence but a thorough transfor- 
mation of American society, including the democratization of the 
new nation. America endured considerable change, in the viewpoint 
of the "Progressives," before the Constitution of 1787— a counter- 
revolutionary document skillfully designed to nullify the Revolu- 
tion—restricted the powers of the real revolutionaries. 

By mid-century that interpretation had come under serious chal- 
lenge from scholars of the "consensus" inclination. These writers 
discerned cleavages in colonial society, but they suggested that the 
schisms were seldom of a class nature; furthermore, the divisions 
played little role in provoking the rebellion. The result, these his- 
torians suggested, was a conservative revolution, an insurrection to 
preserve what existed— and what was thought to be endangered by 
departures in traditional British policy —rather than an upheaval for 
the purpose of provoking substantive change. 

In recent years the most important study to appear on the topic — 
clearly as important for this generation as were the works of Carl 
Becker or Arthur Meier Schlesinger for an earlier generation— has 
been Bernard Bailyn's The Ideological Origins of the American 
Revolution (Harvard University Press, 1967). Although essentially 
"consensus" in outlook, Bailyn acknowledged that the American 
home-front underwent notable modifications during the Revolution. 
The revolt, he maintained, arose out of the colonists' world-view. By 
the 1760s-1770s the colonists had come to see themselves as different 
from Europeans. These differences, arising from the peculiar nature 
of New World society, were thought to be jeopardized by a British 
onslaught. The revolution, in part, therefore, was the institution- 
alization of the American way of life which had awkwardly emerged 
during the previous several decades. But, Bailyn added, the Revolu- 



vi 



tion was greater than the sudden realization of American society : the 
turbulent events of the era comingled with the ideology of the rebel- 
lious to catapult the insurgents— after 1776 — into "unfamiliar direc- 
tions, toward conclusions they could not themselves clearly per- 
ceive." (pg. 161) The War for Independence, therefore, resulted in a 
salient, if unplanned, transformation of the home front. 

This issue of the Studies does not claim to systematically investi- 
gate the terribly complex question: how revolutionary was the 
American Revolution? Instead, it is a compilation of essays which 
explore the multifaceted nature of the domestic society and insti- 
tutions during, and, in some instances, after the rebellion. No 
attempt was made to publish a "Progressive" or "Consensus" issue. 
By design, the contributors are a disparate group, including scholars 
of varied persuasions, age, sex, and region. The one common link is 
that the essayists, in previous works, have established deserved 
reputations of competence and ability in the areas they are scruti- 
nizing in these pages. The result, hopefully, is a compendium of gain- 
ful and provocative views on the issues which concerned those who 
inhabited the home front during the War for Independence. 

A personal word of gratitude is in order for Ms. Vicki Ward and 
Ms. Eva-Marie Roswall, assistants who have typed draft after draft 
of manuscripts during the past several months. 

John E. Ferling 

Assistant Professor of History 

Volume Editor 



vn 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2011 with funding from 

LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation 



http://www.archive.org/details/westgeorgiacolle1976unse 



SOUTHERN SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND 
THE AMERICAN WAR FOR INDEPENDENCE 

By 
James A. Henretta 

When the thirteen English colonies in North America took up 
arms against the British Crown at Lexington and Concord in 1775, 
the entire Western Hemisphere was under the effective political 
control of European imperial powers. Half a century later, at the time 
of the deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams— simultaneously 
and symbolically on July 4, 1826— the situation was far different. 
The successful achievement of American independence in 1783 had 
been followed by anti-colonial uprisings in Santo Domingo during 
the opening years of the French Revolution and subsequently in 
nearly all of Latin America. Within the lifetime of the American revo- 
lutionary generation most of the inhabitants of two continents had 
achieved a status of political self-determination; only Canada and 
various Caribbean islands and coastal enclaves to the south of the 
United States remained as relatively unimportant residues of the old 
trans-Atlantic imperial systems. Here, then, was the first massive 
decolonization movement in modern history, a phenomenon that was 
not to be repeated until the middle of the twentieth century when the 
continents of Asia and Africa were to assert their freedom from Euro- 
pean political domination. 

This massive convergence of anti-colonial rebellions, in the eight- 
eenth no less than in the twentieth century, demands explanation. 
Was it the example of India in 1947 and China in 1949 or of the 
United States in 1776 which spurred other colonial peoples to throw 
off the imperial masters? Or were there pervasive structural weak- 
nesses in these empires, inherent flaws which made possible continent- 
wide movements for political liberation? The question is an important 
one, for it forces a consideration of the causation of these anti- 
colonial movements and requires that the American revolutionary 
experience be placed in a wider hemispheric perspective. 

The vocabulary of the twentieth century and modern models of 
revolution have accustomed us to assume that the dynamism which 
produces political violence originates from below. But such formu- 
lations, stemming from the French experience in 1789 and the 
Russian example of 1917, are based on historical cases in which pre- 
viously disadvantaged groups overthrew the constituted basis of the 
society and seized power for themselves. Most rebellions in early 
modern history— in Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth 
centuries and in the various American colonies at the end of the eight- 



eenth century — proceeded from quite different causes. In these in- 
stances the initial impetus for change did not come from within the 
society, from its lower or disadvantaged orders, but from without; 
almost invariably these rebellions stemmed from the attempt of a 
central government or an imperial power to extend its political con- 
trol or to increase its financial demands upon an outlying province 
or colony. 1 

There is no better example of this process than the American 
movement for independence. Before 1765 the inhabitants of the 
British colonies in North America were loyal, if somewhat uncoop- 
erative, subjects of the Crown. For three generations they had 
accepted the restrictions imposed by the Laws of Trade and Navi- 
gation—or at least those regulations which did not impinge too 
directly on their own self-interest— and they had prospered. Then, 
beginning in the 1760's, the British King and Parliament undertook 
a sustained campaign to regulate more closely the course of 
American trade, to impose strict administrative controls and, most 
importantly, to increase imperial revenues. It was this series of tax 
and money bills— the Revenue Act of 1762, the Sugar and Currency 
Acts of 1764, the Stamp Act of 1765, then the Townshend Duties of 
1767 and the Tea Act of 1773— which gradually undermined the 
traditional allegiance of the privileged groups within American 
society. 

In less than a dozen years faint protests led to concerted resis- 
tance, to riots, and— ultimately —to rebellion. Rhetoric of this revolt 
was rich in metaphors of dependence, of an intense fear of an in- 
fringement on personal autonomy and freedom. "The merchants in 
England look upon us in this part of the world as their Slaves," 
Edward Shippen, a Pennsylvania merchant wrote to a friend in 1774; 
they say that 

it is our duty to work for them. And while we the white 
and black Servants send the Merchants Gold and Silver 
and . . . Spirits, Sugar, and Mollasses & c ... so that they 
may take their pleasure and role about in Couches, they 
are well enough satisfied. 2 

Such apprehensions of a conspiracy instigated by the King's 
ministers and designed to reduce America to complete subordination 
were pervasive among the Patriot leadership. Jefferson thought that 
England had laid "a deliberate and systematical plan of reducing us 
to slavery," while Alexander Hamilton claimed that "the system of 
slavery fabricated against America is the offspring of mature 
deliberation." 3 

It is obvious that many Americans feared a British assault upon 



their traditional liberties but that such subjective views fully com- 
prehended the rationale and the complexities of British intentions is 
less apparent. In 1763, Britain had just emerged from a long and 
debilitating war with France, a struggle in which the American 
colonists had participated directly in the conquest of Canada. This 
victory had been puchased at a high price. The expenses of war, 
including generous military subsidies to colonial governments, had 
exhausted the British Treasury. It was the enormous size of the 
national debt— over £ 130 million — which was a prime factor in the 
British decision to bring the colonies under more effective control. 4 

These new demands of the British government constituted the 
proximate cause of the American War for Independence. War had led 
to financial distress and to increased fiscal demands upon the 
colonies. But the strain placed upon the fragile bonds of the trans- 
Atlantic connection was too great; as in many peripheral areas a 
distinct and partially autonomous society had appeared in British 
North America and its inhabitants were extremely sensitive to any 
infringement, real or imagined, of their traditional laws and insti- 
tutions. The dynamism from without — the concerted Crown attempts 
to extend the authority of the central government— first elicited 
passive resistance in the form of non-compliance with the Stamp Act 
and a refusal to purchase British goods in the Non-Importation 
Agreements, and then to civil war within the far-flung Empire. 

A second structural weakness— in addition to the inherently fra- 
gile link between metropolis and periphery —determined the outcome 
of this conflict. Most rebellions in Europe in the seventeenth and 
eighteenth centuries were eventually crushed by the central govern- 
ments, as limited local resources dwindled away under sustained 
pressure. But the colonial revolts which took place between 1775 and 
1825 were another matter altogether. Given their geographic isola- 
tion, the American colonies were partially immune from the central 
power; and this inherent advantage was enormously accentuated by 
diplomatic and military conflicts among the European nations. Soon 
after the outbreak of fighting in America in 1775 the French govern- 
ment secretly sent money and arms to the colonists, and by 1778 
France had entered into a formal military alliance with rebellious 
Americans. It was this assistance which guaranteed the American 
achievement of independence and prevented either a compromise 
political settlement or a complete destruction of the Pa- 
triot movement. 

Seen in this light, the success of the anti-colonial revolts of the late 
eighteenth century was the result, in large measure, of the temporary 
breakdown of the European diplomatic system. The increasingly 
disruptive struggles among France and England and Spain, begin- 



ning in 1754 with the French and Indian War and terminating only 
with the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, caused each of the imperial 
powers to impose greater financial burdens on their colonial dependen- 
cies, just at the time that their own preoccupation with military 
affairs at home made the effective implementation of those policies 
difficult, if not impossible. These bitter divisions, moreover, permitted 
aspiring colonists to play one European power off against another. 
French assistance to the United States was subsequently repaid in 
full by the British, who successfully encouraged Latin American 
independence movements directed against Spain, the traditional ally 
of France. The parallel with the events of the twentieth century — 
the devastating wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 which undermined 
the financial, military, and psychological strength of the European 
powers and made it impossible for them to continue their imperial 
domination of the continents of Africa and Asia— is readily apparent. 
In both periods protracted military conflicts among the metropoli- 
tian imperial powers permitted and, indeed, often encouraged revolt 
in the peripheral colonial dependencies. 

Such a favorable structural situation neither made an indepen- 
dence movement inevitable nor determined its course. Developments 
on the home front, therefore, were of crucial significance in the crea- 
tion of the new American republic which emerged in 1776. In the 
South the Patriot leadership was assumed by those who were promi- 
nent in the production (or, in the case of the South Carolina mer- 
chants, in the marketing) of the staple crops of rice and tobacco. 
Disadvantaged or oppressed groups within the society —landless 
whites and enslaved blacks— played a strictly subordinate role; and 
the same was true, for the most part, of that part of the white popu- 
lation engaged in diversified agriculture. This split between rich and 
poor, between commercially-oriented and semi-subsistence groups, 
stemmed from a variety of factors. Wealthy planters had traditionally 
controlled southern politics, and so it was only to be expected that 
they would take control of the anti-imperial movement. Moreover, 
the new British measures bore most directly on those engaged in 
foreign commerce, a sector of the population which had the most to 
lose from the imposition of imperial taxes and which was heavily in 
debt to British merchants." 1 Such individuals reacted instinctively 
when it appeared that their private debts would be compounded by 
public taxes. 

Conversely, settlers in the backcountry of Georgia and the Caro- 
linas, and even in parts of Virginia, had only a tenuous relationship 
to the British economy; their economic well-being depended more on 
the labor of their own hands than on the success or failure of the new 
imperial legislation. The Proclamation Line of 1763, which restricted 



emigration further into the interior, placed these settlers in political 
opposition to Crown policy; but this was largely offset by the need 
for Royal assistance against the Native American tribes whose lands 
they had taken, often by force. Moreover, the most immediate 
political opponents of the small, yeoman farmers in the western 
regions were the low-country planters, the very men taking the lead 
in the independence movement. For nearly a generation these 
wealthy planters had used their control of the colonial assemblies to 
deny fair representation and an equitable court system to the back- 
country. In the late 1760's, these conflicts had become so acute that 
they engendered armed confrontation. In 1771, the lowland militia of 
North Carolina defeated backcountry "Regulators" in a pitched 
battle at the Alamance River. Everywhere in the backcountry there 
were grievances that would find renewed expression upon the out- 
break of the war with England. The instructions of the inhabitants of 
Mecklenburg County to their delegates to the North Carolina Con- 
stitutional Convention of 1776 offered eloquent testimony to the 
depth and intensity of these feelings : 

In fixing the fundamental principles of Government you 
shall oppose everything that leans to aristocracy or power 
in the hands of the rich and chief men exercised to the op- 
pression of the poor. 6 

The necessity for unity in the war against Britain brought some 
concessions from low-country planters and merchants. Periodic 
reapportionment of the legislatures appeased those western inhabi- 
tants who had watched their numbers grow steadily without a com- 
mensurate increase in assembly representation; even here, however, 
eastern domination was partially perpetuated by basing represen- 
tation on wealth as well as on population. The new state constitu- 
tions reflected the interests of the wealthy in other respects as well. 
Under the provisions of the South Carolina Constitution candidates 
for Governor had to own a debt-free estate of £ 10,000; for Senator, 
£ 2,000; and for Representative, £ 1,000. These were astronomical 
sums in a society in which the total monetary income of an ordinary 
farmer during an entire year might be less than £ 25. Property quali- 
fications for officeholding in Maryland were equally stringent, and 
those for voting were sufficiently restrictive so that fewer than fifty 
percent of the white adult male population could qualify for the 
franchise. 7 Similar disparities between rich and poor and between 
east and west in Virginia were rectified only fifty years after inde- 
pendence in the Constitutional Convention of 1829-1830. Nowhere in 
the South had the Patriot movement been captured by democratic 
forces. The struggle for home rule was initiated and controlled by 
members of the traditional elite. 



The ability of the southern leadership to manage the wartime 
economy and society was not seriously tested until 1778. Armed 
conflict during the first years of the struggle took place in New 
England and in the Middle Atlantic states, so there was no serious 
threat to internal disorder fomented by Loyalist forces; and the 
financial demands of war, the cost of supplying men and materials to 
the Continental Army commanded by Washington, could be met 
from accumulated reserves and through borrowing. In the summer of 
1777, for example, South Carolina had sufficient credit to borrow 
£ 140,000 sterling from its citizens. Within the year, however, a fiscal 
crisis was at hand. From one end of the South to another govern- 
ments found their treasuries empty and their inhabitants unwilling 
or unable to lend sufficient funds to support the war effort. Under- 
populated and hard-pressed Georgia limped along on subsidies 
(eventually amounting to £ 2.5 million) from the Continental Con- 
gress. Elsewhere state governments turned reluctantly to taxation, 
worried that the imposition of a heavy tax burden might discourage 
friends of the Patriot cause, yet unable to envision any alternative. 
In the last months of 1777 Virginia levied taxes which were expected 
to yield £ 25,000 annually, but even this sizable sum left a deficit of 
£ 445,000 in the following year. This huge gap was filled by the is- 
suance of Treasury notes, which similar deficits in other southern 
states were financed through the issuance of paper money. 8 

This dramatic and sudden increase in the money supply engendered 
an inflationary surge of monumental proportions. In Maryland a bag 
of salt which cost $1 in 1777 had a paper value of $3,900 three years 
later, while the price of a bushel of wheat increased by a factor of 
5,000. While much of this increase was "artificial" — the result of 
printing presses running wild — there was, in fact, a real shortage of 
goods occasioned by the British naval embargo, the disruptions of 
war, and the need to use surplus production to feed and clothe a large 
(and economically unproductive) army. The "real" price of pork in 
North Carolina rose from £ 10 a barrel in July, 1777, to £ 20 a year 
later, and it doubled again to £ 40 by July, 1779. 9 Whatever the 
cause, it was the merchants who were held to blame. Traders were 
"neither Whigs nor tories," a Planter complained to the North Caro- 
lina Gazette in October, 1777, "their short creed is 'that gain is god- 
liness'." Three years later the complaints were much the same. 
"Whatt a Sett of Atheistical fellows must there be in Newbern," 
Thomas Hart wrote to William Blount, "that thinks there is Neither 
God nor Devil to punish them in a Nother World, for their usury to 
us in this. . . ." 10 

Soon neither merchants nor private institutions were willing to 
accept state currency issues or treasury notes in payment for needed 



military supplies. The breakdown of the monetary system prompted 
North Carolina to levy a tax in clothing rather than to try to buy the 
goods. Such expedients were insufficient; dire need demanded more 
straight measures. The estates of declared or suspected Loyalists 
were confiscated by the state governments and sold to the highest 
bidder, even though such seizures infringed upon the rights of 
private property for which the war was, in part, being fought. Be- 
yond this, the Continental Army and the state militias now forced 
farmers and artisans to relinquish needed supplies at the point of a 
gun, offering in return the greatly-depreciated vouchers, notes, or 
paper currency. Bankrupt, their taxing powers exhausted, without 
fiscal credit, the state governments directed their armies to resort to 
primitive force. If justification were needed, the doctrine of self- 
preservation would have to suffice. 

The danger was that these measures might provoke a popular 
reaction that would endanger the Patriot cause. Such fears and 
reservations were not without foundation, for the imposition of 
heavy taxes and confiscatory policies coincided precisely with a 
major British offensive in the South. The presence of British troops 
would offer the inhabitants an effective "choice" between loyalty to 
the Crown or adherence to the rebellion. Here was the major test for 
the Patriots in the southern states; their will would be tested in a 
two-year struggle which would go far to determine the ultimate 
success of the entire independence movement. 

Previously the North had borne the brunt of the military conflict. 
One by one the chief American cities and the centers of colonial 
political resistance had been attacked and subdued by the British. If 
the targets were often symbolic— as in the British advance on Phil- 
adelphia, the home of the Continental Congress — the intention was 
not. The British design was to force the Continental Army under 
Washington into a set battle and then to use superior tactics and 
numbers to force its surrender. This plan was nearly successful; on 
more than one occasion Washington's troops were nearly crushed, 
and his Continental Army never emerged victorious from a major 
battle. The great success of the American general during these dis- 
couraging years was simply in maintaining the Army as a symbol of 
American resistance. This tactical achievement eventually elicited a 
British blunder of major proportions. At Saratoga, in the wilderness 
of New York, a rapid and vast mobilization of New England and New 
York militiamen in the fall of 1777 gave a small American army a 
numerical advantage over 5,000 slow-moving British troops and 
compelled their surrender. 

This defeat prompted a new British strategy in 1778, one directed 
at the southern colonies and based on different tactical principles. 



The British army would seek to capture land, not to subdue cities or 
armies; it would then mobilize local Loyalists to administer this con- 
quered domain, while it moved still further into rebel territory. This 
new approach reflected a hazy but, in retrospect, a quite accurate 
assessment of the possibilities offered by the different social and 
political characteristics of the southern states. There were, in the 
first place, many potentially "activist" Loyalists in the backcountry 
—settlers whose previous estrangement from the planter elite would 
incline them to take up arms against the Patriots, rather than simply 
to offer "passive" resistance, as was often the case among adherents 
of the Royal cause in the North. There were also large numbers of 
recent immigrants in the South, Scottish merchants in Georgia and 
Highlanders in the Carolina backcountry, groups which retained 
their allegiance to the British Crown. Even in Maryland, where there 
were few ethnic divisions and no history of western discontent, there 
was a substantial Loyalist or neutral population which might be 
counted upon to render at least covert assistance to an occupying 
British army. 

A second element in British thinking related to the racial compo- 
sition of the southern population. Some within the Ministry believed 
slavery would inhibit the ability of the rebel forces to resist a major 
invasion. It was common knowledge that the South Carolina militia 
was not mobilized for a backcountry campaign in 1768 because of the 
fear of slave revolt. This structural weakness in the southern social 
order could be expected to operate again, preventing the white Pa- 
triots from concentrating their forces. Moreover, there was the dis- 
tinct posibility that the oppressed black population would use the 
wartime confusion to improve its own position. Some slaves might 
flee to the frontier, thereby reducing the productive output of farms 
and plantations; others might actively assist the advancing British 
troops. The memory of Lord Dunmore's Proclamation of 1776, an 
invitation to Virginia blacks to join the Royal Governor against the 
rebels in return for their freedom, was sharply etched in the minds of 
the white leadership. Nearly 1,000 blacks had responded to the 
Governor's call, even though the possibilities of success were not 
great. Even in the absence of a new edict of emancipation— for the 
British were now unwilling to endanger the slave-based societies in 
their West Indian islands— confiscated slaves would greatly bolster 
the logistic capacity of the Royal forces. 

The willingness of the British to enlist the services of the black 
population (and, later, to consider those who had served as Loyalists 
entitled to evacuation 11 ) highlighted the problem posed by the in- 
stitution of slavery for the Patriot forces. During the long verbal 
debate over constitutional principles many Patriot writers had con- 

8 



demned slavery while arguing that violence was justified in the cause 
of liberty and equality. Nevertheless, upon hearing of the battles of 
Lexington and Concord in May 1775, the General Committee of Cor- 
respondence in South Carolina proclaimed that it saw 

no alternative but that we submit to abject slavery or appeal 
to the Lord of Hosts, in defence of the common and unalien- 
able rights, peculiar to Englishmen. 12 

The Committee's condemnation of slave status and its restriction of 
"unalienable rights" to "Englishmen" represented a tortuous com- 
promise of dubious intellectual validity; a few other white inhabi- 
tants of the South (primarily Quakers, German Protestants, and 
recent Scottish immigrants) carried the logic of the natural rights 
argument to its inherent conclusion. Slavery, declared the Scottish 
dominated Parish of St. Andrew in Georgia in January, 1775, was an 

unnatural practice . . . founded in injustice and cruelty, 
and highly dangerous to our liberty (as well as our lives) 
debasing part of our fellow creatures below men, and cor- 
rupting the virtue and morals of the rest; and is laying the 
basis of that liberty we contend for . . . upon a very wrong 
foundation. 13 

The Quakers went even further, attempting to translate ideological 
precepts into actual practice. Responding to the call of the North 
Carolina Yearly Meeting in 1776 to "clear their hands'* of slavery as 
soon as possible, many Quakers manumitted their own slaves. This 
action was quickly denounced by the North Carolina Assembly, 
which passed a bill directing that those blacks already freed be 
imprisoned and sold at public auction. 14 

Having thus resolved the philosophical question of the legitimacy 
of slavery in a republican society by falling back on the "known and 
Established Laws of the Country," the Southern Patriot leadership 
was still faced with the pragmatic question of fighting an increas- 
ingly bitter war with insufficient manpower. In March of 1779 the 
Continental Congress suggested that South Carolina and Georgia 
might raise 3,000 black troops in separate battalions under white 
officers, with the grant of freedom at the end of their service. Despite 
the personal plea of John Laurens that this would "advance those 
who are unjustly deprived of the rights of mankind to a state which 
would be a proper graduation between abject slavery and perfect 
liberty" and "reinforce the defenders of liberty with a number of 
gallant soldiers," this proposal was overwhelmingly rejected by the 
South Carolina Assembly. Of the southern states, only Maryland 
permitted blacks to obtain freedom through military service, and 



this step was taken most reluctantly under the threat of British 
invasion. 15 

This inability of the Patriot South to utilize the military services 
of the black population (which comprised 30 to 50 percent of the 
total) seriously affected the war effort. The great contribution of the 
southern aristocracy in the leadership of the American army 
disguised the fact that most of the men they commanded were re- 
cruited from the North, and particularly from New England. In 
proportion to their white populations, the southern states con- 
tributed fewer men to the Continental Army— less than 5 percent as 
compared to 13 percent for the northern region. 16 In part, this was 
the result of a different pattern of social and economic development. 
A higher birthrate and a lower level of mortality combined with 
limited supplies of arable land to create a large landless population 
in many parts of the North. For instance, in six towns in New Jersey 
over twenty percent of the work force did not own land, working as 
tenant farmers or day laborers, while only fourteen percent of the 
white population in sixteen counties of North Carolina were landless. 
It was this section of the population, dominated by young men with 
little hope of inheriting a substantial family estate, which contributed 
the great bulk of northern recruits to the Continental Army. 17 But 
the greater possibility of acquiring a landed estate was not the only 
factor inhibiting enlistments in the South; fears of racial unrest also 
compelled many whites to stay at home and to fight in militia units 
or ad hoc bands rather than to join a formal military force. 

All of these factors — a large, activist Loyalist population; racial 
divisions; a comparatively small and immobile white military organi- 
zation—worked to assist the British in their conquest of the South. 
In December, 1778 an expeditionary force of 3,500 soldiers captured 
Savannah and then extended the British sphere of influence into the 
backcountry with the capture of Augusta in the following month. 
This success prompted a major campaign in 1780. Early in the year, 
8,500 troops under the command of Sir Henry Clinton landed at 
Savannah and promptly marched on Charleston. The city fell after 
brief seige in May; at one blow the Americans had lost the largest 
city in the South and, even more important, given the shortage of 
manpower, had been compelled to surrender 5,000 men. 

The whole of South Carolina lay open to British invasion. And 
despite a bitter partisan warfare waged by local Patriots, the British 
had asserted nominal control over most of the state by August, 1780. 
This advance was consolidated at the battle of Camden, South 
Carolina when British troops under Cornwallis routed American 
forces led by General Gates, the hero of Saratoga. The contrast with 
the great northern battle was fully appropriate, for it underlined the 

10 



crucial importance of the different social structures of the two 
regions on military events. Only 1,200 militiamen turned out to 
assist Gates and the regular troops from Maryland and Virginia at 
Camden. This was fewer than New Hampshire furnished to General 
Stark at the battle of Bennington in 1777. 18 At Saratoga, moreover, 
the Patriots were able to gather at least 6,000 militiamen from 
among the farming population of densely populated New England 
and New York. The lack of Patriot manpower was one factor which 
permitted Cornwallis to follow up his triumph at Camden with a 
tactical victory, again over Gates, at Guilford Courthouse (near 
Greensboro, N.C.) in March, 1781. Despite losses in minor engage- 
ments with American irregular forces led by Daniel Morgan and 
others, the British were now in firm control of Georgia and the 
Carolinas. 

The subsequent surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown seven 
months later obscured the magnitude of his achievement and the 
wisdom of the British southern campaign as a whole. Loyalism and 
slavery combined to make the South the weakest military section of 
the United States. Once General Lincoln's force was lost at Charles- 
ton, there was simply no way that the Carolinas could be effectively 
defended by the remaining part of the white Patriot population. 
Even when Cornwallis marched north to Virginia (a decision for 
which he was severely criticized by Clinton, his commander) the 
American army— now headed by General Nathaniel Green— dislodged 
the Loyalist garrisons and militia only with the greatest difficulty. 
"We fight, get beaten, and fight again," he lamented at one point. 
Had Cornwallis adopted a defensive position in the Carolinas, it is 
doubtful that Patriot forces would have been able to reestablish their 
control over these crucial southern states. 

The intense partisan nature of this warfare gave another distinctive 
character to the movement for independence in the South. There were 
few battles between disciplined troops in the British and Continental 
Armies and many more among ethnic groups, former political 
enemies, and opposing family clans. Passions were higher in these 
circumstances, and resentment faded less quickly. Personal antag- 
onisms were exacerbated by property losses. Perhaps as many as 
4,000 blacks left Savannah at the time of the British evacuation, 
while as early as 1778 Thomas Jefferson estimated that more than 
30,000 Virginia slaves had used the opportunity offered by the war to 
improve their position by fleeing their plantations. During Corn- 
wallis' march through the state in 1781, Richard Henry Lee informed 
his brother that two neighbors had lost "every slave they had in the 
world" and that "this has been the general case of all those who were 
near the enemy." 19 Patriots retaliated by confiscating Loyalist 

11 



property (valued at nearly £ 5 million sterling in the United States 
as a whole), and by harrassing those who attempted to return to their 
homes after the war. This revenge took on a particularly violent 
character in South Carolina, where some of the most bitter partisan 
clashes had occurred. Riots by the Marine Anti-Britanic Society 
shook Charleston in the early 1780's, directed primarily against 
wealthy Loyalist merchants who had returned to the city. As late as 
April, 1784 — a full year after the signing of the formal peace treaty — 
the Sons of Liberty in one rural area accosted William Rees, a former 
Loyalist officer, laid fifty stripes on his back with a hickory stick, 
and warned him out. In another, more extreme incident, a number of 
Tories were ordered away from their old properties; when they re- 
fused to depart, they were attacked by a mob of Patriots and eight 
former Loyalists were killed. 20 

That the character of the war for independence and its aftermath 
assumed a distinct shape in the South was not accidental. It pro- 
ceeded, rather, from the nature of the southern social order itself: 
the sharp ethnic and geographic divisions between low- and back- 
country which encouraged "activist" Loyalism; racial divisions 
which inhibited military mobilization; the existence of slavery which 
raised moral and political dilemmas in an independence struggle 
based on the rhetoric of liberty, equality, and popular sovereignty. 
This uniqueness did not escape the attention of men and women at 
the time. As early as 1779, Richard Henry Lee — often described as a 
"Puritan" in character, if not in origin — wrote to John Adams of his 
deep personal interest 

in the establishment of a wise and free republic in Massa- 
chusetts Bay, where yet I hope to finish the remainder of 
my days. 

"The hasty, unpersevering, aristocratic genius of the South," he con- 
tinued, "suits not my disposition." Other white southerners noted 
similar contrasts, while remaining loyal to their own section. "When 
I was in Congress," Timothy Bloodworth of North Carolina observed 
in 1789, "the Southern and Northern Interests divided at [the] Sus- 
quehannah. I believe it is so now." These sentiments were echoed by 
Charles Pinckney of South Carolina, who noted the "striking . . . 
difference that is between the inhabitants of Northern and Southern 
states." "There we may truly observe," he argued, "that nature has 
drawn as strong marks of distinction in the habits and manners of 
the people as he has in her climates and productions." This crucial 
relationship between environment and culture was explicitly under- 
lined by William Henry Drayton: 



12 



From the nature of the climate, soil, and produce of the 
several states [he suggested] a northern and southern in- 
terest in many particulars naturally and unavoidably 
arises. . . . 21 

In this conscious articulation of major cultural differences between 
the North and the South lay an important new theme in American 
history. Previously there had been many references to the staple- 
producing areas of the West Indies and the southern mainland on the 
one hand, and to the commercial and farming colonies of the north on 
the other. Now this economic and mercantilistic division — one made 
primarily with reference to their external relations with Great Britain 
rather than their internal character— was gradually transformed into 
a social and cultural dichotomy, and one with significant moral 
overtones. In the decades ahead the power of the southern planter 
aristocracy would assume a mythic status, as would the virtue of the 
northern yeoman farmer. Behind these symbols lay real political 
difference on substantive issues: tariffs, fishing rights, Mississippi 
navigation, industrialization and, eventually subsuming all of these 
sub-categories, the opposition between a "free" and a "slave" society. 
Before 1776, racial slavery was common to all parts of British 
America; therefore, it was increasingly confined to the southern 
mainland. Moreover, the basic postulates of slavery had been chal- 
lenged by the ideology of liberty and equality proclaimed during the 
movement for independence from Great Britain. Even as the two 
sections were being pulled more tightly together by the demands of 
war and the creation of new nation-wide political and constitutional 
institutions, they were becoming more aware of their inherent social 
and cultural differences. It is a sobering reflection but, I think, an 
accurate one, that the nature of the War for Independence — particu- 
larly its ideological implications — helped to generate the seeds of the 
Civil War. 



FOOTNOTES 

1 See the Review Essay by H.G. Koenisberger in the Journal of Modern 
History, 46 (March, 1974), 99-106; Max Savelle, From Empires to Nations 
(Minneapolis, Minn., 1974). 

2 Quoted in Jerome H. Wood, Jr., "Conestoga Crossroads: The Rise of 
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1730-1789," (Ph.D., Brown University, 1969), 297. 

3 Quoted in Michael P. Rogin, Fathers and Children (New York, 1975), 21-28. 

4 The influence of the Seven Years War on the American independence 
movement is argued most forcefully by Lawrence H. Gipson, The Coming of 
the American Revolution. 1763-1775 (New York, 1954). 



13 



5 Jackson T. Main, The Sovereign State, 1775-1783 (New York, 1973), 401, 
411, 424, and 428; and, in general, John R. Alden, The South in the 
American Revolution (Baton Rouge, 1963). 

6 Quoted in Sheldon R. Koesy, "Continuity and Change in North Carolina, 
1775-1789," (Ph.D., Duke University, 1963), 79; Richard Maxwell Brown, 
The South Carolina Regulators (Cambridge, Mass., 1963). 

7 See, in general, Raymond Gale Starr, "The Conservative Revolution: 
South Carolina Public Affairs, 1775-1790," (Ph.D., University of Texas, 
1964), 73 and passim. 

8 Main, Sovereign States, chap. 11. 

9 Elizabeth Cometti, "Inflation in Revolutionary Maryland," William and 
Mary quarterly, 3rd ser., 8 (1951), 228-234; Koesy, "North Carolina," 131. 

10 Quoted in George W. Troxler, "The Home Front in Revolutionary North 
Carolina," (Ph.D., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1970), 135-136. 

11 Kenneth Coleman, The American Revolution in Georgia, 1763-1789 
(Athens, Ga., 1958), 145-146; Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American 
Revolution (New York, 1960). 

12 Quoted in Starr, "South Carolina," 23-24. 

13 Quoted in Coleman, Georgia, 45-46. 

14 Troxler, "North Carolina," 208-210. 

15 Starr, "South Carolina," 95-98; Main, Sovereign States, 403; Coleman, 
Georgia, 188. 

16 Main, Sovereign States, 396, 402-403, 420. 

17 Compare Dennis P. Ryan, "Six Towns: Continuity and Change in Revo- 
lutionary New Jersey, 1770-1792," (Ph.D., New York University, 1974), 147- 
149 with Koesy, "North Carolina," 254; Kenneth Lockridge, "Land, Popula- 
tion, and the Evolution of New England Society," Past and Present, 39 
(1968), 62-80. 

18 Main, Sovereign States, 420-421. 

19 Quoted in John H. Franklin, "The North, the South, and the American 
Revolution,' Journal of American History, 62 (June, 1975), 20. 

20 Starr, "South Carolina," 179, 183-4. 

21 All of these quotations are from David Bertelson, The Lazy South (New 
York, 1968), 156, 160, 151, and 140. 



14 



EMERGING URBANISM AND 

INCREASING SOCIAL STRATIFICATION 

IN THE ERA OF 

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION 

By 

Bruce E. Daniels 

Historians agree that urbanization is a crucial factor in the mod- 
ernization process. Traditional historians acknowledge the presence 
and importance of urban units in the American Colonies, as well as 
the growth in their size and numbers in the pre-industrial early 
national period. But these traditional historians contend that cities 
only became a major factor in American life with industrialization in 
the second half of the nineteenth century. Historical sociologists 
usually argue that in non-urban, pre-industrial society, social posi- 
tions were highly visible and stratification was clear and unam- 
biguous. 1 In the European context, manorial society, of course, pro- 
vides the classic example of this. Industrialization and urbanization, 
the sociologists contend, created the modern middle class, rendered 
individuals anonymous, blurred the clearly defined social positions, 
and modernized the social structure. The forces of urban demography, 
a dynamic economy, and technological innovations significantly 
raised mobility and lessened stratification. These empirical trends in 
society that accompanied urbanization and industrialization, the 
argument continues, have been in turn accompanied by a democ- 
ratization of behavior patterns and a change in ideology towards 
greater egalitarianism. 

In America, the transition from ruralism and stratification to 
urbanism and egalitarianism seems to correspond to this rough 
outline of development. One can select points along a chronology 
that would show the decline of stratification which accompanied the 
rise of urbanism. The extremely hierarchical societies one associates 
with Puritan New England and with seignorial New York, Maryland, 
and South Carolina failed to last intact into the eighteenth century. 
In the 1740s and 1770's, the catalytic forces of the Great Awakening 
and the Revolution challenged doctrines of acceptance of authority 
and superiority and further weakened the social hierarchy. The nine- 
teenth century provided the coup de grace through the innovation of 
political parties, the opening of the West and, finally, massive ur- 
banization and industrialization. The only major exceptions to this 
pattern of development before the era of the "Robber Barons" were 
the aberrations of slavery and the plantation South. Historical 

15 



theorists would argue that this trend, though somewhat common to 
all of western society, also manifests itself in a unique American 
social structure. Although in the twentieth century all of western 
society may be becoming more similar, the colonies and the new 
nation throughout the nineteenth century constantly became less 
European and more American in a fashion that could best be demon- 
strated as a continuum on a straight line. 

I will argue in this essay that neither the line from great to lesser 
stratification, nor the line from European to American, has been 
straight. Moreover, the colonial portion of the eighteenth century 
witnessed an empirical reversal in the continuum. The American 
colonies between 1700 and 1776 experienced a sharp growth in ur- 
banization accompanied by a growth in social stratification that 
constantly grew towards approximating the English norm. Cities in 
pre-industrial America, even though they produced upward and 
downward social mobility, sharpened rather than blurred social dis- 
tinctions and positions. The crucial urbanization that made these 
heightened social distinctions meaningful to the colonists occurred 
not only in the five cities, Boston, Newport, New York, Philadelphia, 
and Charlestown, whose importance has been recognized by most 
scholars— these cities were too exceptional to be meaningful to most 
colonists— but in the large number of emerging secondary urban 
units. 2 

The importance and nature of secondary urban units has escaped 
widespread notice because most historians mistakenly thought that 
population numbers were the key to defining urbanization. Historical 
geographers recognize that although population may be a char- 
acteristic of urbanization, population density and social and economic 
functions are much more important criteria. 3 Albany and Savannah, 
for instance, had populations of 4,000 or less in 1775 but were clearly 
urban because they had well-defined business districts, served as 
distribution and collection centers for hinterlands, had a wide range 
of occupational specialization, and concentrated much of their popu- 
lation in one small area. 4 Farmington, Connecticut, on the other 
hand, had more than double the population of either Albany or 
Savannah. Yet Farmington would as clearly not qualify as an urban 
unit because it had no well-defined business district, little mercantile 
activity, was peopled almost entirely by farmers, and its population 
was scattered over 200 square miles. Nor did legal incorporation as a 
city always serve as a sure test of urbanization. There were between 
25 and 45 legally incorporated cities in the colonies, mostly in the 
middle colonies, many of which were geniune urban units. In the 
South, and particularly in New England, however, many settlements 
which were legally only villages or towns functioned as urban 

16 



centers. Since only Royal authority could charter a municipal cor- 
poration, the New England charter colonies had no power to create 
legal cities; because municipal incorporation meant a large degree of 
freedom from outside control, the Royal colonies in the South had no 
disposition to create them. 5 

Notwithstanding the definitional problems, even the areas tra- 
ditionally thought to be non-urban experienced a massive growth in 
secondary urbanization in the eighteenth century. Portsmouth in 
New Hampshire, Salem, Medford, and Marblehead in Massachu- 
setts, and Providence in Rhode Island, all competed with Boston and 
Newport as central places for northern and eastern New England. 6 
In Connecticut five secondary urban units, Hartford, Middletown, 
New Haven, New London, and Norwich, began to challenge Boston 
and New York's ability to tap southern New England as a cask with 
spigots at either end. 7 In Pennsylvania a major increase in western 
colonial urbanization occurred after 1730 with the establishment of 
Lancaster and Wilmington. Easton, Harrisburg, Chambersburg, and 
Gettysburg also challenged Philadelphia's domination of Penn- 
sylvania, although none could compete within fifty miles of Phila- 
delphia without being destroyed by its gravitational pull. 8 Many 
units, small by population size, functioned as urban units throughout 
the non -tidewater lower South. Norfolk, Virginia, with a population 
less than Farmington, Connecticut, served as the major emporium 
on the mainland for trade with the West Indies. Cabinpoint, Urbana, 
Dumfries, Richmond, Falmouth, Fredericksburg, and Alexandria, 
Virginia, all functioned as major distribution and collection centers. 9 
Annapolis and Baltimore belie the notion that urbanization made 
little progress along the Chesapeake. 10 Everywhere one looks in the 
colonies in the mid-eighteenth century, pre-industrial central places 
were emerging for primarily economic reasons. In 1770 only 7% of the 
American population lived in urban units, but the percentage was 
growing sharply and playing a disproportionately important role 
in the colonies. 11 

Sociologists clash over the causes of social stratification. Func- 
tional sociologists argue that stratification results when any social, 
economic, or occupational differentiation occurs. They believe that 
stratification has its roots in men's persistent search for differences 
among themselves and their equally persistent tendency to evaluate 
these differences. Those opposed to functionalist theory contend that 
differentiation is a natural condition of mankind and should not be 
equated with the stratification which occurs only when the differences 
of one generation are passed on to the next generation intact. To the 
non-functionalist, only inherited differentiation or differentiation 
that is long-enduring involve meaningful stratification. However, all 



17 



sociologists would agree that the longer a differentiated hierarchy 
exists, the more it stratifies. 12 

All historians and historical sociologists agree with the folk cul- 
ture that eighteenth century American society was significantly less 
stratified than Georgian England. Few scholars, however, recognize 
that over the course of the colonial eighteenth century the gap 
between the two social structures narrowed perceptibly. In the 
colonies, differentiation of position increased at a rapid rate and the 
tendency of the social and economic oligarchies created by this dif- 
ferentiation to perpetuate themselves also increased. The increase in 
stratification and the tendency to approach the English model oc- 
curred most discernibly in the emerging urban units and will be 
illustrated hereafter by an examination of Connecticut's five urban 
centers, Hartford, Middletown, New Haven, New London, and 
Norwich. 

Connecticut's five cities exercised a political and economic in- 
fluence grossly disproportionate to their populations. While comprising 
less than 10% of the colony's total population, they produced 40% of 
the governor's councilors elected between 1700 and 1784. Five of the 
nine governors in this period were from the five cities. Of Connecticut's 
seven most important military leaders during the Revolution, five 
resided in the five cities and a sixth had spent four years at Yale in 
New Haven. Similarly, the leader of the loyalists in Connecticut lived 
in New Haven. An examination of a list of Connecticut's 54 leading 
merchants in this period shows that 41 of them, or 76%, were from 
the five centers. 13 

Connecticut underwent an economic revolution at mid-century in 
which it changed from primarily grain-growing subsistence farming 
to large scale production of livestock and increased manufacture of 
handicrafts for export. After a decline in the standard of living be- 
tween 1718 and the 1740's, a strong upsurge of business activity 
occurred in the late 1740's. The five cities led, controlled, and bene- 
fitted from the economic revitalization. 14 Trade— particularly the 
West Indian trade— increased dramatically. The number of ships 
utilizing these ports tripled; both exports and imports increased 
dramatically between 1756 and 1774. 15 The five cities, led by the 
merchants of New Haven and Norwich and the ships of New London, 
controlled almost all of this trade. Hartford and Middletown became 
the collection depots and distribution centers for large agricultural 
hinterlands. The importance of all five cities as central places can be 
seen by the networks of highways leading from them into the back- 
country. 16 Although they had been increasing constantly in function 
and complexity, it was the boom of the 1740's-1750's which trans- 
formed these centers from "sleepy towns" to provincial cities. Not 

18 



content merely to control Connecticut's interaction with the great 
merchants in over twenty West Indian ports, the five cities increas- 
ingly vied with Boston and New York in the direct European trade. 17 
That this effort was largely unsuccessful does not detract from the 
grandeur and expansiveness of the cities' aspirations or the reality of 
their achievements. 

The array of shops, goods, services, and social pleasures available 
in the highly developed business districts of these mid-eighteenth 
century cities was impressive. Nearly every known commodity in the 
Western World could be obtained on the seven or eight commercial 
streets in Hartford. Wigmakers, watchmakers, barbers, harness- 
makers, braziers and pewterers, apothecaries, grocers, dry goods 
merchants, jewellers, printers, and artisans of every kind plied their 
trade and sold their wares. Ten taverns and fourteen inns with 
colorful names like "Bunch of Grapes," "Old Fortune of War," and 
"The Harp and the Crown," made sure that Hartford residents and 
visitors did not have to go far to quench their thirst. Newspapers 
advertised goods from Holland, Geneva, France, The Indies, and 
India. The ladies of Hartford, wives of future patriots of Republican 
simplicity, frequented the shop of Marie Gabriel, "a mantuamaker 
and milliner from Paris;" their husbands discussed vintage years for 
grapes while browsing in newly opened winestores. The elite women 
of these cities, worried that their attire might be out of fashion, 
quickly copied styles described by recent travelers to Boston or New 
York. The outlandish jewelry, parasols, peacock fans, awkward 
hoops, and especially the hair dressings worn by the ladies of 
Norwich drove one man to publish a poem in a newspaper satirizing 
the calash. 

"Hail, great Calash. O'erwhelming veil, 

by all indulgent heaven, 

to calling nymphs and maidens stale, 

in sportive kindness given. 

Safe hid beneath the circling sphere 

unseen by mortal eyes, 

the mingled heaps of oil and hair, 

and wool and powder lies." 

Men also carefully cultivated their coiffures. When Samuel Edwards 
of Hartford died, he left, besides his large amounts of elegant clothes, 
a "noted wig," "best bob wig," and "natural white wig." The social life 
of these elegantly attired urbanites also reflected a growing sophisti- 
cation and love of the mindless but enjoyable pleasures usually asso- 
ciated with leisurely life in English cities. At a wedding dance in 
Norwich, ninety guests danced 92 jigs, 52 contra dances, 45 minuets, 



19 



and 17 hornpipes. Dancing clubs, formed in all of the cities, kept late 
hours and exhausted their members. Young men and women even 
dared violate the law and meet on the street on Sunday for social 



occasions 



18 



While the faddish and foppish elite shopped in the cities, the 
number of people who could not afford even decent middle class 
clothes, and who had no reason to feel merry about anything, was 
increasing. In the half-century preceding the Revolution the gap 
between the wealthiest and poorest members of society increased in 
absolute and also in relative numbers. The transition from a frontier 
environment to an urban stage was accompanied by a growing dif- 
ferentiation of economic classes. 19 Boston, the most economically 
differentiated community in New England, became an urban area 
where "merchant princes and proletarians" characterized the eight- 
eenth century social order. The destitute could be seen in its streets 
as they tried desparately to avoid its "filthy, dark, crowded, and 
odoriferous" poorhouse. 20 Connecticut's cities differed only by degree 
from Boston. The richest 30% of Boston's probated population 
owned 85.30% of society's total wealth between 1760 and 1776, 
whereas the same percentage of Hartford's population owned 73.94%. 
The richest 30% owned only 68.05% in Suffolk County, Massachu- 
setts, however, and but 67.50% in Connecticut's small towns. 21 Even 
outside the five main urban areas of Connecticut— in small coastal 
trading ports like Milford, with its small but concentrated urban 
population— the top 10% of society owned 36% of the wealth as 
opposed to the 25% owned by the wealthiest 10% of Connecticut 
society in general. While the average employed, non -skilled urban 
proletarian earned only £25 per year, Daniel Lathrop of Norwich 
managed to bequeath £500 each to Yale University, Norwich's 
treasury, and the city's first ecclesiastical society. The living 
expenses of many of the cities' gentlemen totaled as much as £700 
per year, while other families, even with several members employed, 
struggled to survive on less than £50 a year. The periodic unemploy- 
ment of numerous unskilled workers and mariners in the cities also 
caused many to slip below the income required to support a family in 
a "middlin" manner. 22 In the wake of economic disparities residential 
neighborhoods became segregated and differentiated according to 
wealth and occupation. The residential patterns reflected hardening 
class lines. 23 Economic mobility, while always present in the northern 
cities to a greater extent than in England, became more limited and 
the opportunity to exploit it more socially determined. 24 

In addition to the growing social and economic differentiation, the 
century-long homogeneity in religion and ethnicity disappeared. A 
more cosmopolitan pluralism emerged in Connecticut's cities. The 

20 



fight over the Saybrook Platform in the early years of the eighteenth 
century and the mid-century factionalizing during the Great Awak- 
ening shattered the unity of the Congregational church. 25 The fight- 
ing over the Great Awakening, bitter in most towns, was most 
virulent in Connecticut's urban areas. Although only one-half of 
Connecticut's towns spawned separatist parishes during the Awak- 
ening, all five cities did. In each city, with the exception of Hartford, 
the religious dissension reached extraordinary heights and resulted 
in deep, angry contention. 26 The urban communities lost a higher 
percentage of converts to the Anglican Church than did many of the 
small towns that surrounded them. Anglicans also had greater 
success in officeholding in urban areas than in rural regions, and 
Anglicanism no longer was a crushing burden for aspirant office- 
holders. 27 Catholicism also increased its numbers, and Jewish 
worship even appeared in New Haven. This plurality of worship 
reflected an increase in the settlement of new nationalities in the five 
cities. Spanish, Portuguese, French, Irish, Dutch, and West Indians 
emigrated to Connecticut's cities. Previously only an occasional 
French Hueguenot or Protestant New Amsterdam Dutchman kept 
the population from being totally Congregationalist-English. 28 Most 
of the non-English came to the cities to promote commerce and hence 
joined the mercantile class. While non-English merchants usually 
did not become elected leaders in the communities, they did become 
influential and moved in the best social circles. 

The growing differentiation and stratification in Connecticut's 
cities was reflected in their governments and political patterns. The 
selectmen increasingly became executive officers who functioned as 
supervisors over a burgeoning list of lesser officers. 29 The numbers of 
officers elected by the town meetings increased from approximately 
25 at the beginning of the century to over 100 in three of the cities by 
the end of the colonial period. Greater distinctions separated the 
selectmen from the lesser officers. Moreover, the town meetings grew 
less active and allowed the selectmen more discretionary power to 
govern. Instead of democratizing officeholding patterns, as is 
emphasized in "consensus" accounts of eighteenth century politics, 
each city experienced a growth in the degree of oligarchy among 
officeholders. 30 Rotation of office, which had characterized the elec- 
tion of selectmen before 1740, gave way to patterns of increasing re- 
election. Family ties and connections became more important for 
political success. In the 1720's-1730's one to three families emerged in 
each city to dominate most of the major offices. The families in- 
variably were descended from the founding generation of the seven- 
teenth century and were among the cities wealthiest residents. 31 

By the late eighteenth century these emerging urban centers had 

21 



began to look more like English provincial cities and less uniquely 
American. It was the cities, of course, that led the American resis- 
tance to the British imperial policies; ironically, these cities, at the 
moment of their rebellion, approximated the English urban and elite 
social structure more than at any time in their previous existence. 
Even the demographic factors of birth rates, death rates, and mar- 
riage ages deviated less from the English norm and began to be 
affected by the hardening of class lines and lessening of mobility and 
economic opportunity. One scholar recently suggested that as absurd 
as it sounds, America may have been becoming just another "over- 
crowded" old world society by 1776. This judgement, with regard to 
the urban areas, is hardly preposterous. Political and economic 
power, as well as social prestige, were becoming concentrated in a 
small number of men and families. The elitism of the seventeenth 
century Puritan village had co-existed with feelings of unity and 
communalism within a homogeneous community. Classes had existed 
but they were bound together in a whole unit. The eighteenth 
century cities became sufficiently heterogeneous and differentiated 
to destroy, or badly wound, unity. Classes emerged that felt little in 
common with each other. 32 

Other indicators suggest that the colonies were closer to the 
English norm and more aware of the Atlantic world than they ever 
were before, or would be again, until World War One. In the seven- 
teenth century each of the colonies had been exceptionally distinct, 
but in the eighteenth century, as each copied the English model, they 
became more similar. 33 English imports per capita into the colonies 
increased steadily throughout the eighteenth century and at a 
greater rate of increase than other imports. Carriages graced city 
streets in increasing numbers. The fox hunt even made its appear- 
ance in Charlestown and probably in Newport. 34 The bar and bench, 
the medical profession, and the military styled themselves more 
along the lines of their old world colleagues. 35 Even the Puritan 
church grew so Anglicized — in ways such as using melodies and 
notes in its singing — that purists stigmatized it as the "Catholick" 
Congregational Church. Jonathan Edwards, the greatest American 
religious thinker of the eighteenth century, was more a European 
theologian who owed little to the Mathers or Stoddards but much 
to Locke, Newton, and Hobbes. 36 

The number of newspapers in all of the colonies grew from Bos- 
ton's one in 1704 to 48 widely scattered journals in 1775. Almost all 
these journals concentrated their news on non-local stories. Reflecting 
their growing cosmopolitanism, each of Connecticut's five cities 
commenced the publication of newspapers by the end of the colonial 
period. The content of the news stories was heavily English and 

22 



European. 37 Other sophisticated attributes of Connecticut's five 
cities can be seen in the growth of large personal libraries and book 
stores, and in the creation of regular post offices. The major public 
buildings constructed in the late colonial period had the dignity of 
well-constructed brick Georgian architecture. An unusual example of 
the decline of the wilderness conditions in Connecticut's cities can be 
seen in the widely heralded killing of the "last rattlesnake" in Nor- 
wich. By the outbreak of the Revolution the five cities had large 
public grammar schools, and Yale University in New Haven enrolled 
the large number of 200 students. The great demand for domestic 
servants caused the appearance of a slave market in Middletown 
in the 1760's. 38 

Most of the Anglicization or Europeanization occurred without 
conscious thought, but at times the desire to copy English society 
was given overt expression. John Trumball, the young Yale poet, 
wrote an immensely popular poem printed in New Haven called "The 
Progress of Dullness," in which Tom Brainless and Dick Hairbrain 
competed for the love of Miss Simper. 39 Through these characters 
Trumbull condemned American society and urged it to be more like 
the sophisticated English society he admired. Conversely, European 
visitors invariably expressed amazement at the similarities between 
the cities of the old world and the new. Some American cities even 
displayed such unwanted attributes of European cities as growing 
health problems, increased crime, and soaring taxes, although gen- 
erally Connecticut's urban centers did not. 40 

The Revolutionary experience did not end the trend towards the 
Anglicization of the cities. Connecticut's five urban areas became 
aware of themselves as entities distinct from their fellow towns and 
decided to seek incorporation as legal cities. Throughout the eight- 
eenth century in Connecticut, and in every other colony, differences 
between farm inhabitants and city dwellers surfaced with increased 
regularity and urgency. 41 In Connecticut's five cities the conflict 
became acute because each town was an amalgam of an urban busi- 
ness district that was surrounded by outlying farms within the same 
legal unit. Each of the five towns contained large numbers of 
farmers, often a majority, whose needs were antithetical to the busi- 
ness community and who often blocked projects which the business 
community regarded as essential. 42 As early as 1771 New Haven 
appointed a committee to investigate incorporating the business 
district of the town as a separate city. 43 Because the Revolutionary 
War destroyed the commerce of the militarily exposed ports of New 
Haven and New London, and because Hartford, Middletown, and 
Norwich, rapidly increased their business districts' commerce by 
acting as major entrepots, all five centers were convinced at the end 

23 



of the war that they could only safeguard their mercantile interests 
by becoming incorporated cities. The Revolutionary War also caused 
both merchants and farmers to conclude that fundamental differ- 
ences separated urban and rural areas. Few of the surrounding 
farmers opposed the drive for incorporation and in 1784 the business 
districts of the five areas acquired standard English municipal gov- 
ernment consisting of a "Mayor, Aldermen, Common Council, and 
Freemen." The only basic difference between the five new city gov- 
ernments and English municipal corporations was that the member- 
ship of freemen in the Connecticut cities was quite large; hence, a 
meeting of their freemen was a large deliberative body while in the 
English cities the membership was very restricted. 44 Each of the 
new cities still remained a part of the original towns and still took 
part in town government. 

Connecticut's five acts of incorporation were not unique in the 
new states. During the Revolutionary shakeup, a wave of incor- 
porations, beginning with Richmond, Virginia in 1782 and Charleston, 
South Carolina in 1783, brought the legal status of other American 
cities in line with their economic status. The regulation of commerce, 
the sole reason for incorporation in Connecticut's cities, dominated 
the incorporation acts and the business of the five cities during their 
first years. To underscore that largeness of population need not be 
a criterion for definition of an urban area, none of Connecticut's new 
cities, when separated from the town's farmers, had more than 4,000 
inhabitants. 45 

The growing synthesis between political, social, and economic 
power in the five cities did not immediately end during the Revolu- 
tionary period. Political officeholding was more oligarchic than ever 
and family prestige, as an important political favor, was at a high 
point during the Revolutionary years, but undoubtedly the seeds 
were sown for the destruction of a few families' monopoly of office- 
holding. 46 The peak of a political cycle was reached during the Revo- 
lutionary years. The party battles of the 1790's and of the early nine- 
teenth century, unleashed by Revolutionary forces, ended total 
dominance of major officeholding by the rich and well-born. How- 
ever, while the synthesis between power and wealth ended in the 
half -century after the Revolution, the concentration of wealth in the 
hands of a few and the growing economic stratification continued in 
Connecticut and in the other cities of the new states. If one looks 
ahead to the distribution of the nation's wealth in 1861, the ongoing 
trend can be substantiated. 47 In the immediate Revolutionary years, 
Hartford's, Middletown's, and Norwich's crucial commercial roles in 
the provisioning of the Revolutionary armies assured that their 
commerce would increase, the trend in their increasing importance 

24 



would be accentuated, and no democratization would occur in their 
distribution of wealth. 48 

In conclusion then, it appears clear that the colonies did not enter 
their national existence entirely as a rural, homogeneous, unstratified 
society with only a handful of urban pockets. A century-long trend 
towards secondary urbanization and towards social stratification 
that approached English norms preceded the Revolution and in some 
ways was intensified by it. In Massachusetts, in the thirty years 
after the Revolution, much of rural society exchanged its values for 
ones that at first had appeared only in Boston and then in a few 
secondary centers. 49 Heterogeneity, cosmopolitanism, and organiza- 
tional variety, which were once found in the cities began to make 
their inroads in rural Massachusetts' "Peaceable Kingdoms" and 
soon became a generalized feature of the new state's society. Vol- 
untary associations, which usually are indications of more sifting 
going on within the social strata, rose sharply in rural society. Small 
western towns, settled in the half-century after the Revolution, 
dreamed of becoming great urban communities and hoped to be 
known as the "Athens of Ohio," or of Tennessee. Settlements never 
seemed content to remain rural or sleepy towns. They built grand 
hotels and chartered colleges as indications of their urban aspirations 
and pretensions. 50 Urban society and urban values were expanding 
far before any large-scale industrial development. Anglicization was 
not ended by the Revolution but also continued apace. The rhetoric 
of post-Revolutionary society may have argued against English 
models of behavior but the growth in the concentration of wealth, in 
commerce, in the poor classes, in cosmopolitanism and urban values, 
and the love of things English during "The Federal Era," all show 
that in reality, if not in ideology, the trend towards urbanization and 
stratification survived the Revolution and continued into the na- 
tional period. 



FOOTNOTES 

1 The sociological theory upon which this paragraph is based is found in 
Kurt B. Mayer, "The Changing Shape of the American Class Structure," 
Social Research, 30 (Winter, 1963), 462-68. 

2 The conception of Anglicization of features of Massachusetts' society is 
discussed in John Murrin, "Anglicizing An American Colony: the Trans- 
formation of Provincial Massachusetts;; (Ph.D. Diss., Yale University, 
1966), and Murrin, "The Transformation of Bench and Bar in Provincial 
Massachusetts," Colonial America: Essays in Politics and Social Develop- 
ment, ed., Stanley Katz, (Boston, 1971). The idea of increased stratification 
is discussed in Kenneth Lockridge, "Land, Population and the Evolution of 

25 



New England Society, 1630-1790," Colonial America, ed., Katz, 467-491, and 
Lockridge, "Social Change and the Meaning of the American Revolution," 
Journal of Social History, VI (Spring, 1973), 403-439. the importance of the 
five main colonial centers has been brilliantly chronicled by- Carl Briden- 
baugh, Cities in The Wilderness: The First Century of Urban Life in 
America, 1625-1742 (Originally published New York, 1938; Oxford Univer- 
sity Press edition, 1970), and Cities in Revolt: Urban Life in America, 1743- 
1776 (Originally published New York, 1955; Oxford University Press 
edition, 1970). Jackson Turner Main did note over a decade ago that the 
lesser cities were important and that their social structures "with certain 
modifications . . . shared the same qualities" as the larger cities. See Jackson 
Turner Main, The Social Structure of Revolutionary America (Princeton, 
New Jersey, 1965), 34. 

3 See Joseph A. Ernst and H. Roy Merrens, "Camden's Turrets Pierce the 
Skies! The Urban Process in the Southern Colonies During the Eighteenth- 
Century," William and Mary Quarterly, XXX (October, 1973), 549-574. 
Ernst's and Merrens' position is questioned in Hermann Wellenreuther, 
"Urbanization in the Colonial South: A Critique," William and Mary Quar- 
terly, XXXI (October, 1974), 653-668, but ably defended by their rebuttal in 
the same issue. See also James T. Lemon, "Urbanization and The Develop- 
ment of Eighteenth-Century Southeastern Pennsylvania and Adjacent 
Delaware," William and Mary Quarterly, XXIV (October, 1967), 501-542, 
520-524. 

4 Bridenbaugh, Cities in Revolt, 216, 217. 

5 Ernest S. Griffith, History of American City Government: The Colonial 
Period (New York, 1938), 71, 72, 97. I shall follow the convention accepted 
by Carl Bridenbaugh and most American historians of calling urban areas 
"cities" even though often they legally were not. 

6 Bridenbaugh, Cities in Revolt, 48. 

7 Gaspare John Saladino, "The Economic Revolution in Late Eighteenth- 
Century Connecticut" (Ph.D. Diss., University of Wisconsin, 1964), 17-20; 
Robert Owen Decker, "The New London Merchants: 1645-1901: The Rise 
and Decline of a Connecticut Port" (Ph.D. Diss., University of Connecticut, 
1970), 30-38; Rollin G. Osterweis, Three Centuries of New Haven, 1638-1938 
(New Haven, 1953), 75-76; and Frances Manwaring Caulkins, A History of 
Norwich, Connecticut (Hartford, 1966), 309. 

8 Lemon, "Urbanization," 502-517. 

9 Ernst and Merrens, "Urbanization in South," 558-569; Robert Coakley, 
"Virginia Commerce During The American Revolution" (Ph.D. Diss., Uni- 
versity of Virginia, 1949), Passim; James H. soltow, "The Role of Williams- 
burg in the Virginia Economy, 1750-1775," William and Mary Quarterly, IV 
(October, 1958), 467-482, 468. 

10 Bridenbaugh, Cities in Revolt, 216, 217. 

11 James A. Henretta, The Evolution of American Society, 1700-1815: An 
Interdisciplinary Analysis (Lexington, Massachusetts, 1973), 80-81. Briden- 
baugh, in an unfortunately little-used book, The Colonial Craftsman (New 



26 



York, 1950), chapter IV, calls attention to the importance of these secondary 
units, but his remarks have escaped wide notice. 

12 Talcott Parsons is probably the best known proponent of functionalism. 
See Walter Buckley, "Social Stratification and the Functional Theory of 
Social Differentiation," Social Stratification in the United States, Jack L. 
Roach, Llewellyn Gross, and Orville Gursslin (eds.) (Englewood Cliffs, New 
Jersey, 1969), 17-24, see also Roach et al (eds.). Social Stratification, "Intro- 
duction," 3. 

13 North Callahan, Connecticut's Revolutionary War Leaders, Connecticut 
Bicentennial Series, III (Chester, Connecticut, 1973), passim; Thomas 
Barrow, Connecticut Joins the Revolution, Connecticut Bicentennial Series, 
I (Chester, Connecticut, 1973), passim; Saladino, "The Economic Revolu- 
tion," appendices 29 and 30, 425-432. In all of New England, cities always 
contributed a disproportionate share of the colony officers. See Edward 
Cook Jr., "Local Leadership and the Typology of New England Towns, 1700- 
1785)," Political Science Quarterly, LXXXVI (December, 1971), 586-608, 
594. 

14 Henretta, The Evolution of Society, 41; Saladino, "The Economic Revo- 
lution," 17-20. 

15 Saladino, "The Economic Revolution," 1-5; Decker, "The Rise and 
Decline of a Port," 253-256. 

16 Saladino, "The Economic Revolution," 17. 

17 Osterweis, New Haven, 75-76; Caulkins, Norwich, 309; Saladino, "The 
Economic Revolution," 4-17; Henretta, The Evolution of Society, 41; and 
Decker, "The Rise and Decline of a Port," 37-38. 

18 For the details of this paragraph see William Deloss Love, The Colonial 
History of Hartford (originally published Hartford, 1914, Pequot Press 
edition, 1974), 232-250; Caulkins, Norwich, 311-335; Decker, "The Rise and 
Decline of a Port, 55-56; Bridenbaugh, Cities in Revolt, 41, 156, 163-164, 
279; and William Weedon, The Economic and Social History of New 
England, 1620-1789, 2 Vols, (originally published New York, 1890; Hillory 
House edition, 1963), I, 249. 

19 Bruce C. Daniels, "Long-Range Trends of Wealth Distribution in Eigh- 
teenth-Century New England," Explorations in Economic History, XI 
(Winter, 1973-74), 123-135, passim; Main, Social Structure, 37; and Henretta, 
"Economic Development and Social Structure in Colonial Boston," William 
and Mary Quarterly, XXII (January, 1965), 75-92, 85-105. 

20 Henretta, The Evolution of Society, Chap. Ill; and Allan Kulikoff, "The 
Progress of Inequality in Revolutionary Boston," William and Mary Quar- 
terly, XXVIII (July, 1971), 375-412, 384. 

21 Daniels, "Long-Range Trends," 129, 131. 

22 Main, Social Structure, 35, 73, 116-123; Caulkins, Norwich, 328; and 
Bridenbaugh, Cities in Revolt, 361. 

23 Carl Abbott, "The Neighborhoods of New York, 1760-1775," New York 
History, LXI (January, 1974), 35-54, 35-52; Kulikoff, "The Progress of In- 
equality," 398-409; and Henretta, The Evolution of Society. 86. 

27 



24 Henretta, The Evolution of Society, 98; and Bridenbaugh, Cities in 
Revolt, 211. 

25 Richard Bushman, From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social 
Order in Connecticut, 1690-1765 (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1967), passim; 
Oscar Zeichner, Connecticut's Years of Controversy, 1750-1776, Williams- 
burg, Va., 1949) chap. 2; James Walsh, "The Great Awakening in the First 
Congregational Church of Woodbury, Connecituct," William and Mary 
Quarterly, XXVIII (October, 1971), 543-562, passim; and Henretta, The 
Evolution of Society, 129-130. 

26 C.C. Goen, Revivalism and Separatism in New England, 1740-1800 (New 
Haven, 1962), 68-90, 115, 302-309. 

27 Bruce E. Steiner, "Anglican Officeholding in Pre-Revolutionary Connecti- 
cut: The Parameters of New England Community," William and Mary 
Quarterly, XXXI (July, 1974), 369-406, 375, 377. 

28 Osterweis, New Haven, 90, 111; and Decker, "The Rise and Decline of 
a Port," 40. 

29 The statements about the nature and growth of local government have 
been discussed more fully in a preliminary article, Daniels, "The Growth in 
Size and Power of Local Government in Colonial Connecticut," The Bulletin 
of the Connecticut Historical Society, XXXIX (January, 1974), 20-25, 
passim. I have elaborated at great length on the nature of executive offices 
and the town meeting in two essays I am preparing for publication, "The 
Frequency of Town Meetings in Colonial Connecticut," and "Puritan 
Villages Become Large Towns: The Complexity of Local Government in 
Connecticut, 1676-1776." 

30 For the Connecticut cities see Daniels, "Large-Town Officeholding in 
Eighteenth-Century Connecticut: The Growth of Oligarchy," The Journal of 
American Studies, IX (April, 1975); and Daniels, "Family Dynasties in 
Connecticut's Largest Towns," Canadian Journal of History, VIII (Septem- 
ber, 1973), 99-111, passim. For substantiation of this in other cities see 
Kulikoff, "The Progress of Inequality," 390; Henretta, The Evolution of 
Society, 90-111; Murrin, "Anglicizing An American Colony," 264-265; and 
Michael Zuckerman, Peaceable Kingdoms: New England Towns in the 
Eighteenth-Century (New York, 1970), Appendix VIII. 

31 Daniels, Family Dynasties," and Murrin, "Anglicizing An American 
Colony," 264. Carl Bridenbaugh feels that the colonial aristocracy peaked in 
social prestige in the 1760's and 1770's. See Bridenbaugh, Cities in Revolt, 
332. 

32 Henretta, The Evolution of Society, 14, discusses the changing demo- 
graphic characteristics of the cities. An example of demographic changes 
from unique American norms to English norms in a non-urban area can be 
found in Philip Greven Jr., Four Generations: Population, Land and Family 
in Colonial Andover, Massachusetts (Ithaca, New York, 1970). Lockridge. 
"Land Population," 467, makes the "overcrowded argument and expands on 
it in "Social Change," passim. For the seventeenth century communalism 
and unit of villages see Lockridge, A New England Town: The First Hun- 



28 



dred Years (New York, 1970), passim, and Sumner Chilton Powell, Puritan 
Village (Middletown, Connecticut, 1963), passim. 

33 Murrin, "Anglicizing An American Colony," 20. Murrin's thesis is the 
first major explicit treatment of Anglicization though Bridenbaugh in Cities 
in Revolt had implicitly dealt with the same theme, Chaps., V, VI, and IX. 

34 Henretta, The Evolution of Society, 42; and Bridenbaugh, Cities in 
Revolt, 341, 365. 

35 Murrin, "Anglicizing an American Colony," passim. Edward E. Atwater 
(ed.), History of the City of New Haven By An Association of Writers (New 
York, 1887), describes some of these changes in New Haven in "The Bench 
and the Bar," and "Changes in Medicine and Surgery," chaps. XIII and 
XIV. 

36 Murrin, "Anglicizing an American Colony," 28-38. 

37 Sidney Kobre, The Development of the Colonial Newspaper (Gloucester, 
Massachusetts, 1960), 97, 174, 177. 

38 Weedon, Economic and Social History, 546, 763; Osterweis, New Haven, 
102, 158; Love, Colonial Hartford, 230; Caulkins, Norwich, 299; J. William 
Frost, Connecticut Education in the Revolutionary Era, Connecticut 
Bicentennial Series, VII (Chester, Connecticut, 1974), 14; and Louis 
Leonard Tucker, Connecticut's Seminary of Sedition: Yale College, Con- 
necticut Bicentennial Series VIII (Cheste, Connecticut, 1974), 124. 

39 Atwater, New Haven, 194. 

40 Bridenbaugh, Cities in Revolt, 118-132. 

41 Bushman, From Puritan to Yankee, 54-72, shows that often conflicts in 
Connecticut towns were between the rich inhabitants of town centers in- 
terested in commerce and the middle-class farmers in outlying areas. Walsh, 
"The Great Awakening," 559, shows ideological and religious splits often 
pitted the town center against the outlying farmers. Griffith, American City 
Government, 262-263, demonstrates that the same split between business 
district merchants and outlying farmers characterized most cities. Briden- 
baugh, Cities in Revolt, 10, 11; and Murrin, "Anglicizing An American 
Colony," 267, also agree that urban-rural splits were crucial factors. 

42 Christopher Collier, Roger Sherman's Connecticut: Yankee Politics and 
The American Revolution (Middletown, Connecticut, 1971), 197, 198, dis- 
cusses the fights in New Haven. Love, Colonial Hartford, 348, discusses 
them in Hartford. Weedon, Economic and Social History, 735, discusses the 
anomaly of Hartford, containing a clear urban center, also producing vast 
amounts of wheat as late as the 1760's. 

43 Love, Colonial Hartford, 343; and Osterweis, New Haven, 112. 

44 Love, Colonial Hartford, 348, 349; Atwater, New Haven, 80, 81; and 
Osterweis, New Haven, 165, discusses the anxieties of the urban areas. 
David Roth, Connecticut's War Governor: Jonathan Trumbull, Connecticut 
Bicentennial Series, IX (Chester, Connecticut, 1974), 74; Collier, Roger 
Sherman's Connecticut, 198; and Love, Colonial Hartford, 348, show the 
heightened tension. For the acts of incorporation see State Records, V 
(January, 1784), 257-277, and V (May, 1784), 343-373. The similarities 

29 



between the new cities and the English model can easily be seen by compar- 
ing the five corporations to English ones described in Sidney and Beatrice 
Webb, English Local Government IV, Statutory Authorities For Specific 
Purposes (originally published London, 1922, London, 1963), 353-373. 

45 Love, Colonial Hartford, 343, 354-355; and Osterweis, New Haven, 157. 
165. 

46 For the increase in officeholding oligarchy see Daniels, "Large Town 
Officeholding," passim. 

47 JacksonTurner Main, "Trends in Wealth Concentration Before 1860," 
Journal of Economic History (June, 1971), 445-447; and Kulikoff, "The 
Progress of Inequality," 376. 

48 Chester Destler, Connecticut: The Provisions State, Connecticut Bicen- 
tennial Series, V (Chester, Connecticut, 1973), passim; Saladino, "The 
Economic Revolution," 43; and Henretta, The Evolution of Society, 167. 

49 This discussion of the spread of urban values is based on Richard D. 
Brown, "The Emergence of Urban Society in Rural Massachusetts, 1760- 
1820," LXI Journal of American History (June, 1974), 29-51. 

50 Boorstin, The National Experience, part three. 



30 



THE REVOLUTION, THE FOUNDING 

FATHERS, AND 

THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE 

By 
John J. Turner, Jr. 

True, this office [the Presidency] was viewed with some 
suspicion. . . . Framers had vivid recollections of auto- 
cratic actions of the king of England, surrounded by friends 
who did his bidding. They would have no king in this coun- 
try, nor set up any office in which an ambitious man could 
come to exercise kingly powers. 

Broadus Mitchell and Louise Mitchell 

The sweltering Philadelphia summer of 1787 made the difficult 
work of the Constitutional Convention even more arduous. It was the 
worst time of the year to engage in political wrangling. Of the many 
knotty issues which troubled the assembly, the efforts to provide for 
a president were probably the most perplexing. The Convention 
quickly agreed on the necessity for a national executive; but here 
consensus ended. Delegates divided over whether a single or a plural 
executive was more desirable, over the length of the term as well as 
eligibility for re-election and over the powers to be invested in the 
office. 

Wrestling with these questions, the most vexing detail concerned 
the mode for electing the chief executive. On September 6, during the 
closing days of the meeting, the Convention finally adopted the 
electoral college mechanism for choosing a president. The tedious 
debate which produced this complicated scheme and the subsequent 
operation of the electoral college, which proved to be very different 
from the delegates' expectations, have obscured the fact that the 
plan was consistent with the Framers' concept of the nature of 
responsible republican government, the institutional requirements of 
sound governance, and the appropriate means of conducting public 
business. Rather than being a "Rube Goldberg mechanism" or a 
"jerry -rigged improvisation," the electoral college was patterned on a 
dynamic set of beliefs which emerged from the Revolution and 
transformed American political culture. 1 

The Founding Fathers did not impose a Utopian system on the 
new nation. Historical experience, "the least fallible guide of human 
opinions," and "the oracle of truth," guided them as they attempted 
to erect a government that would be in harmony with the philosophi- 
cal milieu of the American Revolution and the fundamental and 

31 



unique conditions of the young republic. Steeped in the anti -authori- 
tarian opposition literature of seventeenth and eighteenth century 
English radicalism, which formed the nucleus of the ideology of the 
Revolution, the delegates were profoundly suspicious of human 
nature and of man's capacity to use power wisely. They regarded self- 
interest as a dominant motive of political behavior. No system, no 
class, high or low, could be trusted on its own moral worth. Liberty 
was always threatened and frequently destroyed by leaders, par- 
ticularly the executive, who were corrupted by power and usurped 
authority. Despotism, they believed, could be prevented only through 
a constitutional structure which would limit man's natural licen- 
tiousness by such devices as federalism and the separation of 



powers/ 

Most delegates were particularly anxious to devise a governmental 
system which would mitigate against, or at least control, parties and 
factions. Their theory of republican politics had no room for the 
acceptance of a legitimate opposition. They conceived of parties as 
conspiratorial, malevolent enemies of restrained government and 
advance agents of despotism. On the one hand they envisioned 
groups demagogically drawing fanatic mob support and, on the 
other hand, they saw tight, powerful, largely secret factions manipu- 
lating government for personal ends. The public business, most 
assumed, should be conducted without these disrupting alien forces 
which devoured liberty. 3 

If not parties, though, what method or machinery would they 
employ to direct the affairs of the infant republic? They embraced a 
social structure in which politics was a non -institutional phenomenon, 
an unwritten canon of political behavior, nearly identical with the 
other forces organizing society. They cherished the politics of defer- 
ence, a politics in which leadership was recruited through the chan- 
nels of instinctive social habit. 4 

Clearly the delegates did not consider all men qualified to govern. 
Their writings abound with references to men "pre-eminent for 
ability and virtue," to "those politicians and statesmen . . . most cele- 
brated for the soundness of their principles," and to the "best men." 
Only a particular breed of men, in their estimation, possessed the 
unusual characteristics essential for public office. Such men "stood" 
for office; they were chosen, not nominated for leadership. Drawn 
from among land owners, merchants and "the learned professions," 
these gentlemen and friends of good government possessed the 
wealth and leisure to pursue politics as an avocation rather than a 
vocation. They were presumed to be selected for political office by a 
natural deference that was the very texture of society and would 
serve from a deep sense of duty and obligation to the community. 

32 



The public welfare could be trusted to such men. 5 

At the same time, the delegates were compelled to reconcile their 
concept of deference with the revolutionary notion of republicanism 
which emerged after independence and formed the ideological under- 
pinning of the new nation. Now ultimate sovereignty rested with all 
of the people and, most significantly, power was lodged between the 
people and their leaders, not between King, Lords, and Commons. It 
seemed axiomatic that "the American empire ought to rest on the 
solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE." No other struc- 
ture of government "would be reconcilable with the genius of the 
people ... or with the fundamental principles of the Revolution," 
proclaimed Madison. 6 

It was the shield of republican institutions, many delegates 
affirmed, which would protect society— and its natural leaders as 
well— from corruption. The republican principle demanded, said 
Hamilton, that a "deliberate sense of the community should govern 
the conduct" of those entrusted with "the management of their 
affairs." In the inevitable clash of interests, these leaders would rely 
on reason, not passion. The national interest would be the common 
and intelligent concern. Majorities in the government would shift 
from issue to issue and from policy to policy; order, stability, 
equilibrium, a natural harmony would result. "In the extended 
republic of the United States, and among the great variety of in- 
terests, parties, and sects which it embraces," Madison contended, "a 
coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place 
on any other principles than those of justice and the general 
good. . . ." 7 

The eighteenth century understanding of the social structure from 
which leadership would rise was paradoxical. It presumed the inevit- 
ability of conflict among interests, yet it foresaw social stability 
resulting from the very complexity and balance of interests. The 
whole was conceived as arranging itself into a rather formal pattern, 
and within that formality the social graces and a degree of public 
spirit and virture could exist. Stability and ultimately liberty would 
be destroyed, however, if interests were transformed into political 
factions or parties which operated outside the social structure. One 
object of constitutional government, therefore, was the prevention of 
party. The Philadelphia debate over the proper method of choosing 
the president was addressed specifically to this problem. 8 

Edmund Randolph's Virginia Plan provided for a national execu- 
tive to be chosen by the national legislature. Several delegates 
strenuously objected to the plan. James Wilson of Pennsylvania was 
concerned that such a dependent executive would be unable to medi- 
ate "between the intrigues and sinister views of the Representatives 

33 



and the general liberties and interests of the people." Another dele- 
gate believed that Randolph's proposal would foment the great evils 
of "cabal at home, and influence from abroad." 9 

During the next few weeks several alternative schemes for select- 
ing a chief executive were debated. A plan to lodge the choice of a 
president directly in the hands of the people encountered roughly the 
same objections as the Randolph proposal. Elbridge Gerry of Massa- 
chusetts considered the general populace unqualified to act "directly 
even in [the] choice ot electors." The people, he contended, were "too 
little informed of personal characters in large districts, and liable to 
deceptions." Another member warned that the people "will be led by 
a few active and designing men. The most populous States by 
combining in favor of the same individual will be able to carry their 
points." George Mason of Virginia deemed popular election for the 
presidency as unnatural as "to refer a trial of colours to a blind man." 
The size of the nation, he insisted, would make it impossible for the 
people to render a sagacious decision. There would be such a dearth 
of distinguished citizens who could be recruited as candidates, added 
Hugh Williamson of North Carolina, that each area would turn to its 
local favorites. The larger states in such an eventuality would domi- 
nate the presidency. Other delegates feared that popular election 
would throw the presidential appointment to organized groups, such 
as the Cincinnati, which would conspire to dominate the nation. 10 

On June 9 Gerry suggested that the president be chosen by the 
state executives. Several members objected. One delegate maintained 
that such a mode of election would, of necessity, split the states into 
coalitions based on particularistic interests. Madison pointed out 
that the Gerry plan would foster corruption among state governors 
who "could and would be courted, and intrigued with by the Candi- 
dates, by their partizans, and by the Ministers of foreign powers." 11 

Two additional proposals were introduced. A recommendation 
that the choice of a president be left to the state legislatures moved 
Madison to object that the legislatures would act in concert to pro- 
mote the appointment of a man who would not oppose their mutual 
interests. One final scheme called for the president to be selected by 
lot from a small group of members of the House of Representatives. 
Although Morris supported the scheme and observed that "it would 
be better that chance should decide than intrigue," the lottery idea 
received little consideration. 12 

The question, after months of debate, remained unresolved. 
Finally, on August 31, the Convention created a committee of eleven, 
headed by Judge David Brearly of New Jersey, to bring in solutions 
on this and other "postponed matters." A few days later, the com- 
mittee produced the electoral college plan for electing the president 

34 



which was amended and then accepted by the assembly. It required 
that each state legislature provide a number of electors equal to its 
congressional representation. Each electoral delegation was to meet 
within its state, cast ballots for two persons, one of whom could not 
reside in the state, and transmit the results to Congress to be 
counted. If no person received a majority of the electoral votes, the 
House of Representatives would choose from among the five highest 
on the list; each state contingent was to cast one vote, and a majority 
was required for election. i;i 

The delegates' concern that presidential elections be protected 
from party intrigue and corruption was mirrored in the care with 
which they fixed the details of the electoral system once they had 
settled upon the basic plan. For example, the Convention cannily 
devised a method for choosing a president when no candidate re- 
ceived a majority of the electoral votes. It was first proposed that the 
Senate settle inconclusive elections. Wilson moved to strike the word 
"Senate" from the draft of the constitutional provision and substi- 
tute "Legislature." Since this alteration seemed to favor the large 
states at the expense of the small, Hugh Williamson of North Caro- 
lina suggested that in case of electoral deadlock the election should 
be resolved by the House of Representatives "voting by States and 
not per capita." Supporters emphasized that Williamson's plan 
would lessen the aristocratic influence of the Senate and reduce the 
possibility of corruption. N 

Other provisions were added to shelter the election process and 
the electors from intrigues of Congressmen and federal office holders. 
On September 6, the Convention determined that no person would be 
appointed an elector who was a member of the Congress or who held 
an office of profit or trust under the United States. Furthermore, in 
the event of a contingent House election, the voting would begin 
immediately following the announcement of the electoral count. And 
while Congress was given some right to alter state regulations for 
elections to the lower House, the national legislature was to possess 
no comparable authority in the selection of presidential electors. To 
reduce the possibility of unwanted pressures on electors, a provision 
was included which required that all electors meet on the same day 
in their respective states. The electoral colleges, secure from the dep- 
redations of Congress, were now the preserve of the states; more- 
over, the prospect that a truly continental individual, free from cabal 
and corruption, would be selected to lead the republic seemed rea- 
sonably assured. 15 

Though the state ratifying conventions fully debated all sections 
of the new Constitution, for the most part they were quietly acquies- 
cent toward the electoral scheme. The predominant opinion expressed 

35 



in the scattered debates on the system acknowledged that it consti- 
tuted a sound safeguard against the dangers of faction, conspiracy, 
and intrigue. 16 

Of course, there were criticisms, mostly reflective of the same 
chronic fear of party. George Mason warned in the Virginia conven- 
tion that an elective monarchy would develop in the absence of a 
provision for the rotation of the president. Mason believed that 
electors would be easily influenced. To "prevent the certain evils of 
electing a new president, it will be necessary to continue the old one," 
he lamented. James Monroe observed that in possessing the power to 
set the times for the choosing of electors and for electoral balloting, 
Congress would be able to spread the two dates so as to permit 
factions to influence the electors before they voted. The electoral 
scheme, another delegate claimed, would give the larger states per- 
petual power to elect the president and result in "a government of 
faction. . . ." At least one delegate, Rawlins Lowndes in the South 
Carolina ratifying convention, argued that through its very effec- 
tiveness, the electoral system would hinder the government. After 
Washington should pass from the scene, he maintained, no man 
would command the respect necessary to be elected and the govern- 
ment would falter. The system was also criticized on the grounds 
that it was designed to deceive the people into believing that they 
were actually making the selection In fact, these critics maintained 
an electoral majority would be nearly impossible to attain, and most 
contests would be decided in the House, which would act counter to 
the popular will. 17 

Such doubts, however, were rare. Most delegates to the state 
conventions emphasized the advantages of the electoral college sys- 
tem. Indeed, the general acceptance of the proposal was cause for 
specific comment in The Federalist. "The mode of appointment of the 
Chief Magistrate," wrote Hamilton, "is almost the only part of the 
system . . . which has escaped without severe censure or which has 
received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents." It 
"unites in an eminent degree all of the advantages the union of which 
was to be wished for." 18 

Although other factors no doubt played a role, the electoral plan 
seems to have won support because it was uniquely fitted to the 
ideological requirements of eighteenth century American politics and 
to the institutional demands of good government. Deeply suspicious 
of man's capacity to wield power wisely, a legacy of their study of the 
Whig interpretation of British history and the colonial experience, 
the delegates attempted to create authority and yet to reject what 
logic was forever trying to assign it: A single identifiable focus. The 
electoral college was one of the procedural restraints devised to frag- 

36 



ment destructive authority and to prevent any individual, party or 
institution from absorbing the whole of power. Resting upon the 
people, the ultimate source of sovereignty, and presenting as many 
federal as national features, it provided a mode for selecting a presi- 
dent from a constituency different from that of senators and con- 
gressmen. As part of the federal apportionment of powers, it secured 
the whole electoral process to the keeping of the states where the 
local choice of small intermediate groups of presidential electors was 
less apt to convulse the community than the selection of the chief 
magistrate by a large national electorate. Voting separately in their 
states, the electors were protected from pressures that might be 
exerted "if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place." 
Since the election would be made by a temporary group, convened 
separately for that one purpose, and purged of all who might have a 
specific interest in the final choice, the danger of corruption, and 
especially foreign intervention, was small. The votes of each state 
electoral college, "allotted to them ... in a compound ratio, which 
considers them partly as distinct and coequal societies, partly as 
unequal members of the same society," were expected to result in a 
nationally distributed majority for a distinguished American who 
would stand above all interests. If no man received such a majority, 
the House of Representatives would render a comparable decision, 
for the members would "be thrown into the form of individual dele- 
gations from so many distinct and coequal bodies politic." 19 

Insulated against the tumult of disorder, the delicate task of 
choosing a chief executive would fall naturally to a wise group of 
dedicated public servants chosen in a manner predetermined by the 
social structure. "Those men only," wrote John Jay, "who have be- 
come the most distinguished by their abilities and virtue . . . ," would 
assume this obligation. Selected by the people for this singular pur- 
pose, they would feel a particular responsibility to the commonweal. 
Free from debilitating bias and possessing "extensive and accurate 
information relative to men and characters . . . ," they would act with 
reason; the choice, which was simultaneously individual and collec- 
tive—federal and national — would fall naturally on a man acknowl- 
edged to embody the qualities of excellence, virtue, and integrity 
who would represent a real majority, not an organized majority. In 
both electors and president, the politics of deference would find its 
fitting republican representatives— disinterested, deliberative in tem- 
perament, virtuous, capable of transposing into a national unity the 
interests that combined to make the selection. 20 

Hamilton wrote: 

The process of election affords a moral certainty that the 
office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who 



37 



is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite 
qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of 
popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first 
honors in a single state; but it will require other talents, 
and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem 
and confidence of the whole Union ... to make him a suc- 
cessful candidate for the distinguished office of President of 
the United States. 21 

Widely, even enthusiastically accepted, the electoral college never 
functioned as planned and, with the rise of political parties, it as- 
sumed a new role which "has yet to be studied" and remains the 
source of heated debate. Yet the electoral system was the achieve- 
ment of ideas which transcend its invention and history. The 
Founders had created a president with awesome power, but they 
aspired to protect liberty— both individual and collective— by filling 
the office with a responsible, honorable leader. Although their social 
and constitutional formula for generating such leadership soon 
eroded— a result, in part, of the new republic they had created — their 
undeniable conviction that the preservation of republican govern- 
ment demanded a presidential electoral system that would yield a 
worthy executive, free from intrigue and corruption, who could be 
trusted to exercise power without endangering constitutional guar- 
antees, is the substance of the presidential politics of this bicen- 
tennial year. 2 ' 2 

FOOTNOTES 

1 Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States (New 
Haven, 1913), 54-59; Clinton Rossiter, 1787: The Grand Convention (New 
York, 1966), 135-55; James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, Oct. 24, 1787, in 
Max Farrand, ed., The Records of the Federal Convention (New Haven. 
1911), III, 32, 158; John P. Roche, "The Founding Fathers: A Reform 
Caucus in Action," American Political Science Review, LV (1961), 799-816. 
For an excellent bibliography on the electoral college, see Kalman S. 
Szekely, Electoral College: A Selective Annotative Bibliography (Littleton, 
Colo., 1970). 

2 These themes are developed in a number of important books and articles. 
See Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, "The Founding Fathers: Young 
Men of the Revolution," Political Science Quarterly, LXXVI (1961). 181- 
216; Robert W. Schoemaker, " 'Democracy' and 'Republic' As Understood in 
Late Eighteenth-Century America," American Speech, XLI (1966), 83-95: 
Robert E. Shalhope, "Toward a Republican Synthesis: The Emergence of an 
Understanding of Republicanism in American Historiography." William 
and Mary Quarterly, 3d Ser., Ill (1964), 1-35: Douglass G. Adair, "Experi- 
ence Must Be Our Only Guide: History, Democratic Theory, and the United 



38 



States Constitution," in Ray A. Billington, ed.. The Reinterpretation of Early 
American History: Essays in Honor of John Edwin Pomfret (San Marino. 
Cal. 1966), 129-148; Trevor Colbourn, The Lamp of Experience: Whig 
History and the Intellectual Origins of the American Revolution (Chapel 
Hill, N.C., 1965); Stanley N. Katz, "The Origins of American Constitutional 
Thought," in Donald Fleming and Bernard Bailyn, eds.. Perspectives in 
American History (Lunenburg, Vt., 1969), III, 474-490; Austin Ranney, The 
Doctrine of Responsible Government (Urbana, 111., 1954); The Federalist, 
Intro. Clinton Rossiter (New York, 1961), No. 10, 77-84; Bernard Bailyn, 
The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, 1967); 
Jack P. Greene, "Political Mimesis: A Consideration of the Historical and 
Cultural Roots of Legislative Behavior in the British Colonies in the Eight- 
eenth Century," American Historical Review. LXXV (1969), 337-360; Ber- 
nard Bailyn, "The Central Themes of the American Revolution," and Jack P. 
Green, "An Uneasy Connection," in Stephen G. Kurtz and James H. Hutson, 
eds., Essays on the American Revolution (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1973), 3-80; 
Edmund S. Morgan, "The Puritan Ethic and the American Revolution," 
William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Ser., XXIV (1967), 3-43; Richard Hof- 
stadter, The American Political Tradition (New York, 1960), 3-17; B.F. 
Wright, "The Federalist on the Nature of Political Man," Ethics, XLIX 
(1949), 1-31. 

3 Early in the eighteenth century some Americans expressed the view that 
parties could serve the needs of responsible government, but such ideas 
were clearly exceptional. See Bernard Bailyn, "The Origins of American 
Politics," in Donald Fleming and Bernard Bailyn eds., Perspectives in 
American History (Lunenberg, Vt., 1967), I, 96-98; Richard Hofstadter, The 
Idea of a Party System: The Rise of the Legitimate Opposition in the 
United States (Berkeley, 1969), 1-73. A number of scholars have examined 
the deep political cleavages which were evident in most colonial and state 
legislatures to explain the nature of partisan politics before 1787. Jackson 
Turner Main has produced a number of interesting studies. See his "Politi- 
cal Parties in Revolutionary Maryland," Maryland Historical Magazine, 
LXII (1967), 1-27; "The Antifederalist Party," in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., 
ed., History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-1968 (New York, 
1971), I, 135-36; and Political Parties Before the Constitution (Chapel Hill, 
N.C., 1973). See also Alison Gilbert Olson, Anglo-American Politics 1660- 
1775 (New York, 1973); Stephen. E. Patterson, Political Parties in Revolu- 
tionary Massachusetts (Madison, Wis., 1973). 

4 Charles S. Sydnor, Gentlemen Freeholders: Political Practices in Wash- 
ington's Virginia (Chapel Hill, 1952), 60-77; David Hackett Fischer, The 
Revolution of American Conservatism (New York, 1965), 17-32; J.R. Pole, 
"Historians and Problems of Early American Democracy," American His- 
torical Review, XLVII (April, 1962), 626-46; Lloyd I. Rudolph, "The Mean- 
ing of Party: From the Politics of Status to the Politics of Opinion in Eight- 
eenth Century England and America," (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 
1956), 2-12; Harry Ammon, "The Jeffersonian Republicans in Virginia: An 
Interpretation," Virginian Magazine of History and Biography, LXXI 
(1963), 153-67; John B. Kirby, "Early American Politics-The Search for 

39 



Ideology: An Historigraphical Analysis and Critique of the Concept of 
'Deference'," The Journal of Politics, XXXII ( 1970), 808-38; See also, Roy N. 
Lokken, "The Concept of Democracy in Colonial Political Thought," Wil- 
liam and Mary Quarterly, 3d Ser., XVI (1959), 568-80; Richard Buel, Jr., 
"Democracy and the American Revolution: A Frame of Reference." William 
and Mary Quarterly. 3d Ser., XXI (1964), 169-90. 

5 The Federalist, No. 3, 43; No. 22, 152; No. 39, 240; No. 69, 414; No. 70, 
424. Diamond argues that the Founders were typical of the disinterested 
class of political leaders who were expected to guide the new government. 
See Martin Diamond, "Democracy and The Federalist: A Reconsideration 
of the Framers' Intent," American Political Science Review, LIII (1959), 
52-68. See also Alice Frey Emerson, "The Reality of the Concept of Public 
Interest: Examination of an Idea Within the Context of American Politics," 
(Ph.D. diss., Bryn Mawr College, 1964), 22-23; Gordon Wood, The Creation 
of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1969), 65-70; Paul 
Goodman, The Democratic-Republicans of Massachusetts (Cambridge, 
1964), 59-69; Fisher, Revolution of American Conservatism, 227; Rudolph, 
"Meaning of Party," 10-15. 

6 The Federalist, No. 22, 152; No. 39, 40. Although I have not focused on 
the clash of Federalists and Antifederalists over the Constitution, it is 
important to note that both were committed to republicanism and consti- 
tutionalism and that it was within this common framework of assumptions 
that differences arose. What form republican government should take and 
what embodied the essentials of a republican society — the kind of unity 
required for responsible government— were questions that generated bitter 
argument. Indeed, these differences were not resolved with the adoption 
of the Constitution and continued to provoke controversy in the first years 
of the new government. The writing on this period throws considerable 
light on the meaning of the Revolution. See Richard Buel, Jr., Securing the 
Revolution: Ideology in American Politics, 1789-1815 (Ithaca, 1972); James 
M. Banner, Jr., To the Hartford Convention: The Federalists and the 
Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts, 1789-1815 (New York, 1970); 
Marshall Smelser, "The Federalist Period as an Age of Passion," American 
Quarterly, XIX (1967), 147-65; Lance Banning, "Republican Ideology and 
the Triumph of the Constitution," William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Ser., 
XXXI (1974), 167-188. For insight into Antifederalist thought, see Cecelia 
M. Kenyon, "Men of Little Faith: The Anti-Federalists on the Nature of 
Representative Government," William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Ser., XII 
(1955). 3-43; Cecelia M. Kenyon, ed., The Antifederalists (Indianapolis, 
1966), xcviii-vcix, vlviii; Eldon G. Bowman, "Patrick Henry's Political 
Philosophy," (Ph.D. diss., Claremont Graduate School, 1961), 107; Jackson 
turner Main, The Anti-Federalists: Critics of the Constitution, 1781-1788 
(Chicago, 1964), 113. 

7 The Federalist, No. 50, 317; No. 52, 325; No. 64, 391; No. 71, 432. 

8 Douglass G. Adair, "That Politics May Be Reduced to a Science: David 
Hume, James Madison and the Tenth Federalist," Huntington Library 
Quarterly, XX (1957), 343-360; Arthur O. Lovejoy, "Theory of Human 

40 



Nature in the American Constitution and the Method of Counterpoise," in 
Jack P. Greene, ed., The Reinterpretation of the American Revolution. 1763- 
1789 (New York, 1968), 469-86. Although preparty politics was directed by 
and for local elites, the actual practice of colonial politics, particularly in 
urban centers, and the impact of the broad-based American protest after 
1765, the forces unleashed by the Declaration of Independence, and the war 
that followed eroded old-school values by democratizing the political culture 
in ways never anticipated or intended. See Gary B. Nash, "The Transfor- 
mation of Urban Politics 1700-1765," Journal of American History, LX 
(1973), 605-32; David Curtis Skaggs, "Maryland's Impulse Toward Social 
Revolution," Journal of American History, LIV (1968), 771-86; Merrill 
Jensen, "The American People and the American Revolution," Journal of 
American History, LVII (1970), 5-35; Main, Political Parties Before the 
Revolution, 15-17. For a provocative analysis of the "mutually inconsistent 
beliefs" that shape the American mind, see Robert G. McCloskey, "The 
American Ideology," in Marian D. Irish, ed., Continuing Crisis in American 
Politics (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1963), 10-25; Michael G. Kammen, People 
of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization 
(New York, 1972). 

9 Farrand, Records, I, 28, 80; II, 30, 112. 

10 Ibid., I, 80; II, 30-32. Gouverneur Morris argued, however, that popular 
election in such a large nation "could not be influenced, by those little com- 
binations and those momentary lies which often decide popular elections 
within a narrow sphere." See Ibid., II, 54. Formed in June, 1783, The 
Society of the Cincinnati was an organization of Continental Army officers. 
The Society aroused antagonism among groups that believed it was estab- 
lishing an aristocracy. Further apprehension resulted when the group met 
in Philadelphia concurrently with the Constitutional Convention. See Ibid., 
II, 114, 119. 

11 Ibid., I, 181; II, 110. 

12 Ibid., II, 103-105. 

13 Ibid., II, 481, 496-500. 

14 Ibid., II, 527. It was thought that the frequence of election to the House 
would free that body from "influence and faction to which the permanence 
of the Senate may Subject that branch." See Ibid., 502. 

15 Ibid., 521, 526. C.C. Pinckney of South Carolina "remembered very well 
that, in the Federal Convention, great care was used to provide for the 
election of the President . . . independently of Congress, and to take the 
business, as far as possible, out of THEIR hands. " See Jonathan Elliot, ed., 
The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the 
Federal Constitution (Philadelphia, 1941), IV, 442. See also Charles A. 
O'Neil, The American Electoral System (New York, 1887), 12; Lucius 
Wilmerding, The Electoral College (New Brunswick, N.J., 1958), 16-17. "As 
the Electors would vote at the same time throughout the U.S. and at so 
great a distance from each other," stated Morris, "the great evil of cabal 
was avoided. It would be impossible to corrupt them." Farrand, Records, II, 
500, 526. 

41 



16 For example, see Elliot, Debates, II, 511-12; III, 150; IV, 122, 304-05. 

17 Ibid., Ill, 484-485, 488, 492-493; IV, 288. 

18 The Federalist, No. 68, 411-12. 

19 Ibid., No. 68, 412; No. 39, 244. See also Wood, Creation of the American 
Republic, 598. 

20 The Federalist, No. 64, 391; No. 68, 413-414. For similar arguments in the 
ratifying conventions, see Elliot, Debates, II, 321, 511-12; III, 485-86; IV, 
58, 104, 106-07, 122, 304-05. 

21 The Federalist, No. 68, 414. 

22 Richard P. McCormick, "Political Development and the Second Party 
System," in William Nisbet Chambers and Walter Dean Burnham eds., 
The American Party Systems (New York, 1967), 110-11; Alexander Bickel, 
The New Age of Political Reform (New York, 1968), 5-20. Kenyon, ed., The 
Antifederalists, IV; Douglass Adair, "Fame and the Founding Fathers," 
in Edmund P. Willis, ed., Fame and the Founding Fathers (Bethlehem. Pa., 
1967), 27-50. 



42 



THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION AS 

A LEADERSHIP CRISIS: 

THE VIEW OF A 

HARDWARE STORE OWNER 

By 
Barbara Ripel Wilhelm 

When the American Revolution is discussed as an ideological 
movement, and when its philosophical themes are analyzed, almost 
inevitably the only names which appear in the innumerable texts are 
those of the esteemed leadership. The Founding Fathers of the new 
nation have been praised for their intellectual abilities and com- 
mended for their foresight. They are even thought to be national 
saints who very likely saved the populace from British tyranny and, 
perhaps, from the chaos of an American anti-authoritarian "rabble." 

The debate about the motives, intentions and purposes of the 
Revolutionary leadership began almost as soon as the period itself 
faded into the constitutional debates. Contemporary Whigs and 
nineteenth century historians, however, frequently contended that if 
the revolutionaries were idealists they were far removed from the 
daily needs and mundane thoughts of the rest of the population. The 
"intellectual elite," according to the Progressive school of thought, 
related to American society through exaggerated propaganda which 
played the role of stirring the public on occasions requiring violent 
responses to British intervention in American politics— an inter- 
vention not clearly opposed to the interests of many Americans, but 
which surely attempted to limit the power of the colonial leaders. 
Thus, ideas and ideals were forged into tools through which the 
masses could be manipulated by a small cabal of scheming, self- 
interested colonists. 

Even much of the recent scholarship, the so-called neo-Whig 
school, presents the Revolution primarily as a movement planned 
and executed by a leadership group which may have talked about the 
rights and liberties of all men but which did not really believe that 
most of the population could understand political philosophy. 
Bernard Bailyn, principal spokesman for this interpretation, has 
provided modern scholarship with an exciting discussion of the 
newspaper articles and pamphlets of the era. He states, in his Ideo- 
logical Origins of the American Revolution, that the "leaders of 
colonial thought . . . forced forward alteration, or challenged, major 
concepts and assumptions of 18th century political theory." News- 
paper articles and pamphlets were used to explain the "American 

43 



position" to the public and the ideas were discussed and simplified 
over and over again from the 1760's through the war period itself. 
The ideas presented, however, were always those which the leader- 
ship felt were important and unfortunately Bailyn provides no clear 
view as to how they were received. Surely the patriotic cause tri- 
umphed but many historians have contended that the ideology of the 
patriot leadership was merely a glorious rationalization for the 
interests of the upper class. 1 

Gordon Wood, in a recent article, has attempted to combine as- 
pects of Progressive and neo-Whig historiography. He describes the 
leaders of the Revolutionary period as an elite which debated what 
they felt were the important philosophical questions. Still, Wood 
contests, these leaders were primarily interested in communicating 
with a narrow clique of "thoughtful persons" which barely included 
each other. Most of the elite saw the public as a useful political tool 
which had rights and liberties but which could be manipulated to 
approve a leadership which the elite deemed worthy. By 1776 that 
leadership meant the American patriots and not the British 
government. 2 

If, however, the only role the "common man" played in the devel- 
opment of Revolutionary ideology was in choosing sides and approv- 
ing leaders, it must be made clear what kinds of thoughts he had —or 
indeed if he had any thoughts at all —about the leadership in colonial 
America. Historians often point ou. that little can be said about the 
thoughts of the "common man" in history since few such men leave 
any insightful recollections about their world. Some scholars have 
criticized the study of ideas, alleging that only the quantification of 
economic data permits a glimpse into the day-to-day activities of 
most of the people of the past. Yet, in this particular case, there is at 
least some evidence that the common man was thoughtfully con- 
cerned with the ideological issues of the American Revolution; long 
overlooked is a massi . e collection of Massachusetts, mostly Boston, 
newspapers assembled by a humble hardware store owner with the 
almost amusing name of Harbottle Dorr. ' 

In many ways Dorr is an unlikely person for the massive effort he 
undertook. The collection of almost 4,000 pages of text, plus an un- 
countable number of annotations in his handwriting, appears to be 
the only distinguishing feature of a man who seems otherwise quite 
common in Massachusetts, if not the total colonial population. Little 
is known of his personal background. His father probably died when 
Harbottle was about seventeen and the only inheritance Dorr man- 
aged to salvage from the debt-ridden estate was a small library of 
books. This inheritance probably influenced Dorr's later interest in a 
newspaper collection, but the literary character of the family was 

44 



quite narrow. It is probable that Dorr's mother was illiterate. With 
this inauspicious start, it took a combination of luck, ambition, and 
the rising economy of colonial Boston to produce a modest life-style 
for young Dorr but he did accumulate enough wealth to establish a 
hardware shop. Here, according to Dorr himself, he collected the 
newspapers and made the fascinating commentary during the quiet 
times of his business dealings. 4 

The collection, begun in 1765, was a conscious effort made by a 
man who saw his community badly influenced by tyrannical political 
policy most recently evidenced by the infamous Stamp Act. It ended 
in 1776 when the publication of Boston newspapers was terminated 
by British troops. It is clear that Dorr believed he was providing an 
important contribution to the future study of his era. Dorr chose to 
collect newspapers to make his point because he claimed they gave a 
"full Account of the Jealousies, great uneasiness, vast difficulties, 
and cruel Treatment of the Colonies by the Detestable Acts of 
Parliament." After organizing the papers into four volumes, Dorr set 
out to index them and make them useful to readers not familiar with 
the names and events of his day. There is no doubt that he had a wide 
knowledge of English law, history, and past and present politicians. 
He identified names, events, dates and acts of Parliament only 
vaguely referred to in the newspapers. His primary object seems to 
have been to make future readers aware of the "rightness" of the 
American cause; he does this by pointing out the "goodness" of the 
American patriot -leaders and the "badness," in a very moralistic 
sense of evil, of British and Tory leadership. In a determined effort to 
be comprehensive, Dorr went through the texts a number of times; 
some annotations were probably contemporary while others reveal 
that he was still working on his commentary during the war years. 
The fact that he refers to George Washington only as "General" and 
never as "President" seems to indicate that the editing was com- 
pleted before 1789. 5 

Dorr's impressions about the political crises of the 1760's and 
1770's were, of course, influenced by his own involvement in the 
patriot cause. He was an early member of the Sons of Liberty and a 
proud signers of the non-importation agreements. Those who did not 
agree and join with Dorr and his friends were immediately branded 
as bad, misled, and selfish men. Dorr had little use for their opinions 
about the appropriateness of British policy. 6 In 1776 Dorr proved 
that he believed the newspapers were a useful tool for reaching out to 
the people. He advertised in The Continental Journal and Weekly 
Advertiser for information about the British troops which allegedly 
plundered and robbed his shop. The personal suffering, which he said 
nearly amounted to his ruin, added to the tone of his annotations and 

45 



his belief that the American cause was righteous. 7 From 1777 to 
1784, and 1786 to 1791, Dorr was a town selectman, an indication 
that his opinions were popular enough for him to win at least minor 
elections. 8 

In 1773 Dorr wrote a letter published by The Boston Gazette 
about colonial problems and the faulty leadership which had con- 
tributed to American difficulties with the mother country. The letter 
might have been a response to the publication of the correspondence 
between Governor Thomas Hutchinson and Thomas Whately, the 
exchange in which the American patriots saw definite proof of a pan- 
Atlantic conspiracy attacking the rights and freedoms of the 
colonists. The main topic of Dorr's message was a reproof against the 
clergy for not praying for a colonial leadership who would preserve 
American civil as well as religious liberties ; Dorr warned that "when 
a people are deprived of their civil liberties, their religious ones are in 
danger." Surprisingly, for it was but 1773, Dorr called for a colonial 
union to offset "the calamities which threaten America," and he 
chastized the clergy for praying for leaders who "have been declared 
(explicitely or virtually,) TRAITORS to the country, not only by the 
people in general, but also by the highest authority among them." 
The role of the people in determining the policy of the leadership was 
basic, and Dorr defined good leaders as "the mouth of the people 
unto God." 9 

Dorr did not present a simple definition showing how to determine 
good leaders from the bad, but his comments about the actions of 
men in both America and England displayed some basic qualities 
which confirmed a dividing line. In general, men who operated upon 
what Dorr considered to be selfish principles for personal advance- 
ment, no matter what the cost, were evil "tools" and were to be 
driven out of any decent community. Governments which rewarded 
such self-interested men were also to be disregarded. When it became 
clear to Dorr that Great Britain rewarded those who hurt the Ameri- 
can community, he decided that she had become too corrupt to be 
consulted in American affairs. Bad leaders, in very moralistic terms, 
were vain, traitorous, illiterate, uneducated, liars, slanderers, bigots, 
and enemies to the constitution. 

Timothy Ruggles was one of Dorrs "bad men." He was a rescinder 
of the non-importation agreements and a proponent of British 
superiority over American rights. Dorr repeatedly remarked that 
Ruggles was an enemy of America, yet the corrupt British rewarded 
him with high office and lucrative salaries. 10 There were other com- 
ments noting the inferiority of British sympathizers. The Duke of 
Cumberland, no friend to America, was illiterate; and Governor 
Cooke of Rhode Island, also pro-British, had, in general, a low in- 

46 



telligence. 11 Other enemies also proved their depravity because they 
acted out of passions such as religious fanaticism. Dorr observed 
that the Bishop of Warburton was an enemy of America who based 
his hatred of the colonists on the fact that they were dissenters. 
Because of these misplaced feelings, Warburton, according to Dorr, 
voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act and, on the same 
prejudice, most of the other bishops in Parliament joined Warburton. 
Dorr accused the Bishop of Gloucester of slander for preaching a 
sermon in which he denounced the Americans as a people "ready to 
laugh at the Bible." Lord Hillsborough, Dorr commented, was a man 
who acted simply out of hatred and a desire to subvert the true 
constitution of the British empire. None of these men deserved 
respect, much less obedience. Dorr boldly asserted that when 
enemies of America died, their deaths "could be much lamented." 12 

By the great number of Dorr's comments against them, the most 
evil leaders in America were Francis Bernard and Thomas Hutchin- 
son. As early as June, 1765, Dorr relished what he believed was the 
exposition of Bernard's true character, a traitor to the people of 
Massachusetts; and by November of the same year, he termed the 
governor as "implacable enemy" showing "implacable Enmity to this 
whole People and Constitution." In 1769, the year Bernard was 
recalled from the colony, Dorr compared him to Sir Edmund Andros 
as the most arbitrary governor in Massachusetts' history, correcting 
the newspaper remark about "that unparrelled Incendiary Gover- 
nor Andros." 13 

Hutchinson, who succeeded Bernard as governor, also seems to 
have succeeded him as the main target of Dorr's criticisms. Dorr 
wrote that "Hutchinson ... is a Tool to Ld. Hillsborough, Lord 
Hillsborough a Tool to Bute, and the Earl of Bute a Tool to the 
Devil." The sole motive behind Hutchinson's actions was his "lust 
for Ambition and Power" which caused him to attempt a selfish rule 
disregarding the needs of the colonists. Reading a comment printed 
in the newspaper that "the instructions of your constituents you 
should be always ready to obey," Dorr commented that his charge to 
officials was "Contrary to Govr. Hutchinson's opinion!" Dorr thought 
Hutchinson was a villain and a traitor, and certainly unworthy of 
any honest man's esteem. In one of Hutchinson's newspaper letters, 
the Governor acknowledged that he did not favor any "innovations" 
in the constitutional form of government, and Dorr retorted with a 
sarcastic "Hah! Hah!" written in large letters in the margin next to 
Hutchinson's remark. In a more serious tone, Dorr thought it was "to 
the Great Sorrow of all Friends to Liberty" when Hutchinson's 
official commission as governor of Massachusetts arrived in 1771. 
Even when a letter chastized Hutchinson for the selfish use of his 

47 



office and implied that such a person ought to commit suicide, Dorr 
dispassionately responded "It was reported Govr. Hutchinson at- 
tempted to cut his Throat." Dorr did try to maintain some ojectivity 
about Hutchinson, and, in 1769, when a letter referred to Hutchinson 
as the "herald of Slavery" Dorr felt the remark was "very Severe." 14 

Dorr could observe Bernard and Hutchinson very closely for they 
were members of his own community. Perhaps that explains why he 
was so harsh in his remarks about them; he might have subcon- 
sciously envied their success, power and wealth. Slowly, however, 
the judgements against these two men became signs of the corrup- 
tion of the British administration and those who, along with Bernard 
and Hutchinson, favored British policy. If Dorr criticized Bernard 
and Hutchinson merely because of subjective jealousies, these 
emotions were translated only into politically-based censures and 
became part of his more extensive analysis of imperial politics. 
Dorr's verbal attacks became more and more centerd upon English 
villains. Although there were many references to "cursed" acts and 
"obnoxious" policies, Dorr repeatedly turned his attention to a 
severe condemnation of "the despotic, luxurious Ministry." Dorr was 
concerned about the continual and blatant lack of justice in England 
which was obvious in even the most insignificant cases. In one such 
episode, two brothers received a light sentence after murdering "a 
poor watchman;" the reason for their short imprisonment was that 
"their sister is mistress to some Noble Lord." Immorality, corruption, 
greed, the lust for power, and bad politics all had perverted the 
British ministry into evil acts. Dorr even claimed that the colonies 
had received "Popish Priests being paid from England" in an 
attempt to subvert American religious scruples. British politicians 
were caught up in a grand scheme to deprive the colonists of the 
rights and liberties they deserved to enjoy through their natural 
rights preserved in the true Constitution. 15 

With the ministry so corrupt, the King himself became a topic of 
Dorr's critical annotations. In 1772, the residents of Marblehead 
passed a strongly worded resolution about their own rejection of the 
notion that "the King himself is become an instrument in the hands 
of the ministry to promote their wicked purposes." 16 Dorr, however, 
disregarded the refutation and claimed "So it is." According to Dorr, 
a monarch had limited powers; it was, he thought, the people's duty 
to check acts that were clearly unconstitutional, and even at the risk 
of death or imprisonment, the people must oppose a tyrant. Dorr 
even implied that George III was a fool because he took so lightly a 
petition from the people of London. 17 

With all the villains on the Anglo-American scene, Dorr ought to 
have been very specific about the qualities of a good leader, but he is 

48 



less clear about this. The signs of goodness were, it seems, clouded 
even to Dorr, and he admitted that he sometimes erred in judging 
friends of America whom he later determined were really enemies. 
Dorr had dubbed Governor George Johnstone "a great Friend to 
America, to Great Britain: & to the rights of Mankind" and docu- 
mented with various references to prove his early impression. The 
praises, however, had to be retracted for Johnstone turned out to be 
corrupt. He accepted a "bribe by being appointed one of the Com- 
missioners in 1778, to settle the dispute with America: and was base 
enough to endeavour to bribe a member of Congress." There were 
other Americans who appeared good men while in the colonies but, 
when they went to England, fell under the spell of corruption and 
forsook the colonists. 18 

Dorr did find good men on both sides of the Atlantic and was 
complimentary to individuals rather than simply to the adminis- 
trations or the nationalities they served. James Otis earned a 
position of respect in the colonies for his "candid declarations" and 
for "his truly Patriotic conduct in general." Samuel Adams, claimed 
Dorr, was incorruptible and "at the peril of his life, stood foremost in 
the post of danger." In England, Edmund Burke was "glorious 
Patriot;" the Earl of Buchan "a True Friend of Liberty and a Good 
Man;" and William Pym "a Glorious Son of Liberty" who died in 
the good Cause." Dorr even praised some monarchs and said that 
"king William was a good & a great Prince." 19 

These general approbations are too vague to form a precise picture 
of what Dorr might have included as the characteristics of a good 
leader. As a whole, an image has to be drawn from his views about 
the "bad men." The people had to be on guard to judge leaders who 
might surrender to avarice and the lust for power, both immoral 
passions which kept leaders from listening to the needs of their 
followers. Good men did not accept rewards from corrupt govern- 
ments. Hutchinson had acted improperly when he had accepted 
positions and pensions from the ministry in exchange for the imple- 
mentation of evil policies. Dorr even considered that the great 
William Pitt might have been tempted by the passion for personal 
glory when he accepted a peerage; the Bostonians seemed to agree, 
for they were delaying the erection of a statue to Pitt's honor because 
of the possibility that his new rank was a bribe. A good man, Dorr 
believed, had to act independently even at the risk of his future. He 
complimented Joseph Greenleaf who was deprived of his office of 
Justice of the Peace because he did not attend "the Illegal summons 
of the Govr. and Council." 20 

Good leadership was tied to good government and the conformance 
to an ethic which society had chosen to follow, rules which should 

49 



benefit the community as a whole, not merely a few individuals. This 
philosophy was printed over and over in Revolutionary literature, 
and Dorr must have been influenced by its message. In 1771 he read: 

The multitude I am speaking of, is the body of the people — 
no contemptible multitude — for whose sake government is 
instituted; or rather, who have themselves erected it, solely 
for their own good— to whom even kings and all in sub- 
ordination to them, are strictly speaking, servants and not 
masters. The constitution and its laws are the basis of the 
public tranquility— the firmest support of the public au- 
thority, and the pledge of the liberty of the citizens. 
This was not new to Dorr and he commented that "this is orthodox 
and is my Political Creed." 21 The people were the proper creators 
and also the objects of government; leaders rose from their ranks and 
for their benefit. Bad leaders caused great unrest in societies and the 
people were justified to take any action to unseat them. Dorr even 
claimed that "Mobbs, or Riots are never without some Cause," and 
that cause was almost always selfish, greedy and unresponsive 
leadership. 22 

As Dorr looked upon his town and country, the tranquility of the 
colonies had certainly been disturbed by the poor leadership of the 
British empire. When actual warfare broke out between the mother 
country and the colonies, it was obvious that he not only believed 
British policy to be wrong but that this policy had been composed by 
evil men with depraved motives. These leaders had disregarded the 
colonists' needs and had done little to help the American people. 
Leaders who were specifically rejected by Americans had been re- 
warded by the English ministry. One outstanding example of this 
was when the colonists had imprisoned Thomas Dudley for his 
cooperation with the hated Andros and the ministry had then ap- 
poined Dudley Governor of Massachusetts. Time and again the 
British politicians had passed acts which were distressing, obnoxious, 
enslaving, fatal and, above all, unwanted by Americans. This bad 
leadership was condemned for both its moral and political impro- 
prieties. Americans sent petitions, resolves, and representatives to 
England to demonstrate that they would not give up their liberties. 
Still there was no remedy and "at length the sword was drawn by the 
Ministerial Butchers— whereby G. Britain lost her Colonies." 23 

The consequences for the English were disastrous. No 
doubt Britain, instead of preserving her liberty by the vir- 
tue of America, had lost it by that means, as by the virtue 
of America, she separated from G. Britain, which no doubt 
in the sequel, will ruin her i.e. G. Britain. 24 

50 



Both Dorr and the leaders of the American cause dwelt on the notion 
that the virtuous Americans had only stood firm against the corrupt 
British and were forced into preserving their rights. As early as 1765, 
Dorr had marked a newspaper passage which advised that if Amer- 
icans had to choose between their relationship with Britain and their 
"most valuable natural rights", they had no choice but that of 
independence. 25 

Thus the new nation, as Dorr saw it, was born out of a confron- 
tation between the corruption of the leadership of Great Britain and 
the virtuous people of America. The United States now was the best, 
and perhaps only, voice of the "English" constitution. Americans 
had become the only "true Englishmen." Having refused to submit 
to the temptations of power and greed, Americans lived in a happy, 
peaceful place with leaders who cared for their needs. 26 

Dorr had great respect for the leaders he approved as good men. 
It was his impression that these rulers rose out of the people as a 
result of their unselfishness. For such efforts they earned a supreme 
prize. 

There is no pleasure in this life, besides a good conscience, 
equal to that resulting from the just esteem of ones country 
founded on a sincere desire of serving it, & of having 
strained every nerve for that purpose. 27 

These opinions put Dorr's thesis about American revolutionary 
society at odds with those of Professor Wood, for Dorr saw no basic 
division into an exclusive elite and the "vulgar." He saw American 
society as a unit. Leaders listened to the people and if they did not 
represent them and act on their needs, the people responded by 
replacing them. The goals as well as the meaning of the American 
Revolution were shared by the entire American people. 

No doubt if our Morals are pure, and if we have the same 
sacred regard to liberty which [we] have at present (now we 
are independent of Great Britain) we shall [be] the glory of 
all lands & there will be no one hurting or destroying. . . . 28 

If Dorr was taught this rhetoric by a disdaining elite which sought 
to use the populace only to maintain its own power, the teaching was 
so effective Dorr never recognized the plot. From the outset of his 
commentary Dorr indicated that he had long believed many English 
politicians and policies sought the destruction of American liberties. 
Although Dorr probably learned to read in some public school, there 
is no. evidence that he had much formal education. The "school" in 
which he learned history and constitutional law was the society in 
which he lived. It is true that the newspapers were filled with Whig 

51 



"propaganda," but editors merely published material which would 
attract people to purchase the weekly sheets— paper and print were 
too expensive to waste on superficialities. The subject matter of the 
columns was regarded not only as relevant but useful in understand- 
ing the world around those who read them. 

These conclusions place limits on the interpretations that the in- 
tellectual stance of the American patriots was actually shared by a 
small number. Ideas may of course be used as rationalizations for 
other needs and incentives, but Dorr s commentary totally lacks any 
suspicion about less idealistic motives of the patriot leadership. He 
gave his respect to men who shared a common set of ideals with him, 
not with those whom he suspected might force ideas upon him. For 
Dorr there was no division of society into intellectuals and the 
vulgar, but into the good men and the bad. Some historians may 
present Revolutionary rhetoric as a tool used by the leaders to 
attract a following, but Dorr did not see any choice in the kind of 
leaders he would follow. 

Harbottle Dorr was not a member of any kind of intellectual elite 
nor even a prominent member of his community. When he died in 
1794, the Boston newspapers mentioned his passing in short lists of 
others who had died about the same time, but no fanfare about his 
principles was made. 29 There was little that was special about him, 
but there can be no doubt, after reading through his newspaper com- 
mentary, that he fully believed the American Revolution to be an 
idealistic preservation of rights and freedoms, and good leadership. 



FOOTNOTES 

1 For an excellent discussion of Revolutionary historiography see Gordon S. 
Wood, "Rhetoric and Reality in the American Revolution," William and 
Mary Quarterly, 3rd Series, XXIII (January, 1966), 3-32; Bailyn, The 
Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, (Cambridge, Mass., 1967). 

2 Gordon S. Wood, "The Democratization of Mind in the American Revo- 
lution," Leadership in the American Revolution (Washington, 1974), 62-83. 

3 The Harbottle Dorr Collection of Annotated Massachusetts Newspapers, 
microfilm edition, Massachusetts Historical Society. Hereafter cited H.D., 
volume number, and pagination by Dorr. 

4 For biographical information about Dorr, see H.D. I, typescript at the 
beginning of the volume; and Bernard Bailyn, "The Index and Commen- 
taries of Harbottle Dorr," Massachusetts Historical Society, Proceedings, 
LXXXV(1953), 21-35. 

5 H.D., II, 2-3; III, unnumbered first page, for clues showing Dorr made 
his comments either contemporary to the newspapers or during the war, se( 
H.D., I, 216; IV, 583, 734; and Bailyn. Ideological Origins. 

52 



6 Dorr repeatedly accused John Mein, publisher of The Boston Chronicle, of 
using his newspaper to defeat the non-importation agreements. See for 
example, H.D., II, 735. 

7 H.D., IV, 966; the advertisement appeared on July 4, 1776. 

8 H.D., I, typescript at the beginning; Bailyn, Ideological Origins, 22. 

9 H.D., IV, 359; Dorr later affixed his signature to the article and thus 
claimed it as his own composition. The quoted reference to "TRAITORS" is 
almost definitely an accusation against Hutchinson for his letters to 
Whately. 

H.D. I, 258, 354, 372, 396; III, 273, 276, 281. 

1 H.D. Ill, 284; IV, 710, 1057. 

2 H.D. I, 393, 462, 574, 635, 640; II, 74, 100, 262, 465. 

3 H.D. I, 95, 265, 269; II, 476, 577, 663; IV, 324. 

4 H.D. I, 580; II, 288, 297, 657; III, 253, 345, 363, 377, 418, 456, 469; IV, 
321, 324, 435, 1156. 

5 H.D. I, 314, 616; II, 424, 464; III, 489; IV, 466, 827. 

6 H.D. IV, 205. 

7 H.D. II, 551; III, 142, 206, 568; IV, 293, 318. 

8 H.D. I, 230; II, 637; IV, 999. In May, 1778, Johnstone tried to bribe 
Joseph Reed, Robert Morris and Francis Dana to agree to a peace negotia- 
tion with the British and forestall an alliance with the French. 

19 H.D. I, 180, 217, 223, 295, 320, 398, 636; II, 659; III, 32; IV, 139, 750, 
1198. 

20 H.D. I, 399; III, 631. 

21 H.D. Ill, 370. 

22 H.D. Ill, 302. 

23 H.D. I, 53, 353, 433, 467, 700, 719; IV, 708, 762. 

24 H.D. IV, 1250. 

25 H.D. I, 114. 

26 H.D. II, 425, 576, 659; III, 75, 177; IV, 420. 

27 H.D.I, 80. 

28 H.D. IV, 1084. The text unfortunately fades and the final words are 
illegible; the bracketed insertions are the logical completion of the torn edge 
of the page. 

29 The Boston Gazette and Weekly Republican Journal, (June 9, 1794); 
The Columbian Centinel (June 7, 1794). 



53 



FROM PRAGMATIC ACCOMMODATION 

TO PRINCIPLED ACTION: 

THE REVOLUTION AND RELIGIOUS 

ESTABLISHMENT IN VIRGINIA 

By 
Mary E. Quinlivan 

The significance of the American Revolution in the history of 
religious establishment in Virginia lies as much in the encourage- 
ment of public discussion of the contribution of religion and religious 
establishment to social order as it does in the actual adoption of 
Thomas Jefferson's bill for religious freedom in 1786. In the decades 
prior to the Revolution, Virginia underwent religious change more 
penetrating than that which occurred between 1776 and 1786. The 
introduction of various dissenting groups during the second quarter 
of the eighteenth century on the frontier, the advent of the Great 
Awakening, and the subsequent rise of the Baptists in all parts of 
Virginia in the next quarter century were substantive changes in the 
religious character of the colony unequaled by developments during 
the Revolution. But the Revolutionary situation, which commenced 
in 1776, provided the opportunity to move from pragmatic accom- 
modation to principled action. 

During the years following the outbreak of the Revolution, the 
General Assembly of Virginia gradually ended the special relation- 
ship which had existed between the Church of England and the civil 
government. The Declaration of Rights of 1776 contained a broad 
assertion of religious liberty; the assembly then began to spell out 
the meaning of that liberty. Penal legislation requiring religious 
uniformity and church attendance was repealed. Taxation of dissenters 
for the benefit of the Anglican church was abolished in 1776 and all 
levies for the support of the clergy was suspended annually until 
abolished in 1779. 

Vestiges of the Anglican establishment remained, however, in the 
vestry and marriage laws throughout the Revolution. The vestries, 
to which dissenters could not legally belong, were empowered to tax 
parish members and dissenters alike for the care of the poor. In 1781 
dissenting ministers were authorized to perform marriages. The law, 
however, did not put dissenting ministers on a par with the clergy of 
the Anglican church, for only four ministers of each dissenting 
denomination in a county were given authority to perform marriages 
within the bounds of that county alone. Petitions asking for the 
generalized dissolution of vestries and the election of overseers of the 

55 



poor and for the further liberalization of the marriage laws went 
unheeded by the assembly. 

At the same time that dissenters complained about the vestigial 
remains of the old establishment, they were aware of a movement for 
the building of a multiple establishment through a general assess- 
ment for the Christian religion. Its proponents suggested that the 
state collect a direct tax for religion from all taxpayers, each desig- 
nating to which church he wanted his payment assigned. Although 
this general assessment movement was unsuccessful, it was neither a 
reactionary phase of the Revolution nor an expedient by a religious 
group which preferred a single establishment. The movement 
resulted from intense emphasis on the social importance of religion. 
Its adherents believed that religion's positive effect on the social 
order justified its support by the state; moreover, they believed, the 
likelihood that religion would decline without state assistance 
necessitated such support. 

There has been general agreement among historians that the 
principal religious development of the Revolution was the movement 
from expedient toleration of certain groups of dissenters towards 
separation of church and state and that the experience of Virginia 
was salient. In his classic, The American Revolution Considered as 
a Social Movement, J. Franklin Jameson traced the movement as 
part of the Revolution's effect upon thought and feeling. In a recent 
essay on the role of religion in the Revolution, William McLoughlin 
emphasized the importance of the Revolution in continuing the dis- 
solution of colonial religious establishments — a development set in 
motion by the Great Awakening— and in creating "religious liberty 
for Protestantism in order to provide the cultural cohesion needed for 
the new nation." 1 

Numerous specialized studies have contributed to the under- 
standing of the specific developments in Virginia. Much of the 
historical treatment of the assessment issue is in denominational 
chronicles written by nineteenth century historians, primarily Pres- 
byterian and Baptist clergymen. Their tendency to claim glory or lay 
blame decreases their value but, because of the important evidence 
and insights they contain, many of these studies are indispensable. 2 
The major twentieth century study is that by Hamilton J. Eckenrode, 
Separation of Church and State in Virginia: A Study in the Develop- 
ment of the Revolution. 3 His work, a compendium of documents and 
a narrative of the separation of church and state, is helpful for 
gaining an understanding of the assessment movement. His labeling 
of "conservative" and "radical" groups and policies is, however, 
somewhat misleading. Because he failed to study the pre-Revolu- 
tionary thought on church-state alliance, Eckenrode viewed the 

56 



general assessment movement as essentially a reaction against the 
Revolution. He did not recognize it as an expression of the con- 
tinuing concern with the social relevance of religion or of divergent 
views of the meaning of the Revolution. His failure to note Patrick 
Henry's pre-Revolutionary espousal of the civil utility of religion led 
him to interpret Henry's leadership in the assessment movement as 
simply an expression of his "growing conservatism." 

Eckenrode's interpretation was criticized in an excellent article by 
Marvin K. Singleton, who stressed that at the opening of the Revolu- 
tion the assessment question was explicity left for later deliberation. 
Singleton believed that Henry's submission of the assessment bill 
"was in itself not necessarily reactionary or opportunistic". Henry's 
"retrospective view of the issue, though mistaken and troublesome, 
was not an unnatural sort of mistake to fall into during the 1780's, 
when the values of the Revolution had not yet fully jelled into 
principles of good government." 4 Singleton's interpretation of Henry's 
role in the assessment controversy is marred only by his failure to 
note the continuity in Henry's concern for the civil usefulness of 
religion at the time of the Parsons' Cause and later in the movement 
to preserve religious establishment. 5 

The changes which were made in the position of the Church of 
England in Virginia and the theorizing which was done on the role of 
religious establishment during the American Revolution must be 
seen in the context of church-state relations in the preceding 
decades. This paper, therefore, seeks to explain that context and the 
significance of the General Assembly's invitation to open discussion 
of views concerning religious establishment during the Revolution. 

The argument of the civil utility of religion which formed the 
rationale for the general assessment proposals of the 1770's and the 
1780's was not a new argument. Based on the writings of William 
Warburton, Bishop of Gloucester, it formed the justification for the 
alliance of church and state in pre-Revolutionary Virginia. War- 
burton's works were a Whig's effort to justify an established church 
through an analysis of the nature of society. 6 His expressed purpose 
was not to defend the establishment of any particular church or 
creed, but rather to show that an established church of some sort is 
necessary for the well-being of any community. His first step was to 
examine the nature of civil and religious societies and the purposes 
for which they exist. He held that state and church are independent 
societies, each with its particular purposes and functions; the two 
entered into such an alliance for their mutual benefit. The state, 
which originated through social compact, has for its end "security to 
the temporal liberty and property of man." It has no interest in 
securing man's future happiness; the magistrate can be concerned 

57 



only with the bodies, not the souls of men. The magistrate cannot 
punish offenses because they are sins but because they are crimes, 
actions which have a malignant influence on society. The state must 
not concern itself with religious opinions other than the "three funda- 
mental principles of Natural Religion: the being of a God, his provi- 
dence over human affairs, and the natural essential difference of 
moral good and evil." The state's interest in these basic principles is 
from a political, not a religious motive. They are necessary to give 
sanction to an oath, and are thus the bond of civil society. 

Although Warburton emphasized the distinction between the func- 
tions of these two societies, he held that all alliance between them 
is beneficial and natural. The state needs the aid of the church to give 
it a powerful sanction for the observance of its own laws and to 
secure the performance of certain duties of imperfect obligation. The 
church needs the state for protection from external violence. In the 
alliance that is formed the church gives up her independence to the 
state. Warburton 's rationale for state establishment of religion was 
basically that of civil utility, a rationale dangerously close to the 
Erastianism which he abhorred. He did not want religion to be con- 
sidered the creation or the tool of the state. Nevertheless in his 
theory the church — and the clergy — necessarily played a subsidiary 
role in its alliance with the state despite an independent and 
peculiarly spiritual function of preparing men for eternal life. 

Warburton 's writing, particularly The Alliance between Church and 
State (1136 and The Divine Legation of Moses (1737-1741 ), were well 
known in Virginia and were frequently cited by participants in pre- 
Revolutionary discussions of the church-state relationship. In most 
of these discussions there were few who questioned whether there 
ought to be a close relationship between church and state. Rather, 
the discussions generally centered on such issues as the usefulness to 
the colony of certain groups of dissenters and the actual contribution 
to social cohesion made by the Church of England, particularly by its 
clergy who were frequently described in perjorative terms. 

The role of the clergy within the church-state alliance was a basic 
concern in the Parsons' Cause of the 1750's and 1760's. In this 
conflict some of the clergy protested against what they claimed was 
an illegal devaluation of their salaries through the Two Penny Acts. 
The faction of the clergy which was involved in the controversy 
believed that the temporary commuting of their salaries from 
tobacco to money at a time when the fluctuation in the price of 
tobacco would have been to their advantage would lead to the "ruin 
of the Established Church." They expressed their views to the 
Bishop of London: "For what Clergyman can it be expected will 
come hither from Great Britain, or who will here design their sons for 

58 



holy Orders, when the Clergy shall not be paid in one certain com- 
modity, but in Tobacco or Money or something else, as any of them 
shall happen to be the least profitable. . . & when they shall be sup- 
ported in a penurious manner or starved outright." 7 

This group considered the commutation an attack upon the clergy 
and thus on the existing religious establishment. They did not wish 
to have a subservient role in Virginia society. According to one of the 
protesting clergy, James Maury, there had been a "long Train of 
public measures" designed for purposes of "reducing & degrading the 
Church from a federal Equality & Alliance with the State, it's in- 
dubitable Right by the British Constitution, to an abject Vassalage 
& servile dependence on it." 8 Clearly Reverend Maury believed that 
at the heart of the Parsons' Cause was the question of the proper 
locus of authority in the church-state alliance. He and the other 
protesting clergy wanted a sure and adequate income which would 
permit them an independent voice; they wanted a minimum of lay 
control in the church. In this way, religion and religious establish- 
ment could best serve society. Their adversaries believed that the 
clergy should play a supportive role to the state. Lay control would 
help assure the proper functioning of the clergy within the alliance. 

In the case in which he defended the parish sued by Reverend 
Maury, Parick Henry dramatically expressed the importance of an 
established church and the deviation of Virginia's clergy from their 
proper role. His argument concerning the role of religious establish- 
ment dealt exclusively with its civil utility. Its purpose is to "enforce 
obedience to civil sanctions, and the observance of those which are 
called duties of imperfect obligation." If the clergy failed to fulfill 
this function, society "may justly strip them of their appointments." 
Henry characterized the Virginia clergy as "rapacious harpies [who] 
would, were their powers equal to their will, snatch from the hearth 
of their honest parishioner his last hoe-cake, from the widow and her 
orphan children their last milch cow! The last bed, nay, the last 
blanket from the lying-in woman!" Because the clergy in the Par- 
sons' Cause had counteracted the purposes of their alliance with the 
state, they ought to be considered as "enemies of the community" 
rather than as "useful members of the State." 9 

Soon after the Parsons' Cause had ceased to be of great interest 
to Virginians, a new controversy, that of the American episcopate, 
gained attention in the colony. In 1771, as a result of pressure from 
representatives of the United Convention of the Clergy of New York 
and New Jersey, Virginia's Commissary, James Horrocks, called two 
meetings of the Virginia clergy to discuss the feasibility of petitioning 
the King for the creation of a colonial episcopate. Although atten- 
dance at both meetings was extremely sparse, a majority of the 



59 



twelve clergymen present at the second meeting decided to prepare a 
petition to the king requesting the establishment of the episcopate. 
This petition was to be approved first by the majority of the Virginia 
clergy and then by the Bishop of London before being presented to 
the king. Four of the twelve clergymen present voted against this 
plan of action. Two of them, Thomas Gwatkin and Samuel Henley, 
published a formal statement against the action in the Virginia 
Gazette. 10 Although they collaborated on the statement in the 
Gazette, it became apparent as time went on that Gwatkin and 
Henley held quite different views on the concept of the church-state 
alliance. 

Gwatkin wrote to the clergy of New York and New Jersey in 
response to their criticism of the Virginia clergy's lack of support for 
the American episcopate. Explicitly declining to engage in a "philo- 
sophical dispute concerning establishment in general," he based his 
argument concerning the clerical role in the Virginia establishment 
on the theories of Warburton. He showed that the discussion of an 
American episcopate was necessarily a different question in Virginia 
from what it was in those colonies in which the Church of England 
was not already established by law. In Virginia, said Gwatkin, the 
Clergy had connected itself with the government and consequently 
had surrendered its right to make alterations without the approbation 
of the civil authorities. The Virgin^ House of Burgesses had seen the 
northern clergy's "scheme" in its proper light and foresaw its "mis- 
chievous tendency" of separating the interests of the clergy from 
those of society. Gwatkin believed that for reasons of civil utility, the 
clergy of an established church must play a subordinate role. In that 
position, they were unable to effect basic changes in the ecclesiastical 
constitution without express legislative consent. 11 

Although most of those who objected to the American episcopate 
challenged neither the concept of episcopacy in general nor the 
alliance of church and state, Samuel Henley implicitly questioned 
episcopacy and explicity condemned the accepted theory underlying 
the church-state alliance. In doing so, he came into open conflict with 
the staunch lay supporter of Virginia's religious establishment and 
the Treasurer of Virginia, Robert Carter Nicholas. During 1773 and 
1774 these two men aired diametrically opposed views, providing the 
fullest pre-Revolutionary debate on the role of religion and -religious 
establishment in society. 

Because Nicholas, as an important vestryman of Bruton Parish in 
Williamsburg, had kept Henley from a permanent appointment as 
rector of the parish, Henley published a letter in the Virginia Gazette 
of May 13, 1773, challenging Nicholas to bring his charges against 
Henley into the open. In various issues of the Gazette, Nicholas indi- 



60 



cated that his objections centered on Henley's stand on the American 
episcopate, his doctrinal latitudinarianism, and, most particularly, 
his view of the church-state alliance. 

In March, 1772, Henley preached a sermon on the church-state 
relationship which he later had printed. The ideas developed in this 
sermon were at the heart of the Nicholas- Henley dispute. Henley 
spoke at length on the origin of the social compact and its relation 
to religion in society. He thought society was founded on purefy 
human motives, primarily the security and enjoyment of property. 
The magistrate's basic duty is to preserve the peace and property 
of the members of society. He recognized that much confusion can 
arise in connection with this concept because some things which are 
against God's laws are also violation of the state's laws, but he added 
that although violation of a civil law might "involve in it a violation 
of the Law of God, it is cognizable before the Magistrate in no other 
light than as a civil offence, since in no other view can it be injurious 
to society." 

Henley believed that although society and government were 
founded on purely human motives and religion played no role in the 
formation of either, religion inevitably "looks with a benign aspect 
upon civil polity . . . since the conduct it enjoins tends greatly to 
advance man's secular welfare." This, however, was not the primary 
purpose of religion, and Henley was unwilling to have religion's role 
reduced to that of civil utility. The authority of religion was anterior 
to every political establishment and binding upon every individual: 
"Human law could not more give it effect than extent." Man must 
be free to follow his conscience, for "our duty to our Maker is coeval 
with our being." No matter how desirable uniformity in religious 
opinions may appear, to make nonconformity criminal is "highly 
impious." The establishment of religious doctrines on the authority 
of the state would be useless; unless they are actually believed they 
are ineffective. The most sacred dogmas would be "but human pre- 
scriptions" to those who were not convinced of their divine nature. 
Legislation enjoining public worship is equally foolish, for "can a 
legal injunction excite the spirit of devotion?" Religion is not in need 
of legislative support by the state any more than the movement of 
sun and moon are dependent on the state. 12 

The House of Burgesses was the congregation to whom this ser- 
mon was preached on March 1, 1772. Although there is no record 
indicating fully the circumstances under which this sermon was 
prepared and delivered, Henley's choice of subject matter and his 
manner of handling it are significant. At the time of the delivery of 
this sermon religious questions were of great importance in the 
deliberations of the House of Burgesses. As a result of numerous 

61 



petitions from Baptists and others, a religious toleration bill had 
been given a second reading and referred back to the Committee 
for Religion on the Friday prior to the delivery of the sermon. It 
seemed to Henley an appropriate time for a sermon on the text, 
"Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the 
things that are God's." Although he made some practical application 
of his theory in the latter part of his sermon, most of the address 
was a philosophical treatise on the origin and interrelationships of 
society, the state, and religion. Henley was not dealing with the es- 
tablishment of religion as it existed in Virginia; nor did he suggest 
modifications to the burgesses. Rather, he was questioning in toto 
the concept of religious establishment. 

In his criticism of Henley, Nicholas made no attempt to philoso- 
phize on the social compact or the distinction between the purposes 
of church and state. Rather, he said that if he were a minister he 
would consider it his duty to show the "superior Advantages of our 
Establishment, and the various and striking Beauties of our 
Liturgy." Such preaching would strengthen those who were already 
members of the church and would attract strangers as well. But 
Henley seemed to Nicholas to have had as his purpose "to beat down 
and destroy that necessary, that friendly and amiable Alliance be- 
tween Church and State, which the best and ablest Divines have 
thought essential to the Prosperity of both." 13 

Henley objected to Nicholas's statement that the most revered 
clergymen had considered the alliance between church and state 
essential. In determining his mental list of able divines, Henley 
noted, Nicholas must have excluded all the reformers of the English 
Church of the previous century and a half and all the current bishops 
of the Church of England except "his Lordship, of Gloucester [Wil- 
liam Warburton]." Henley held that the theory that the alliance 
between church and state was essential to both was "of but few Years 
existence and was begotten on a Fondness for Novelty by the crea- 
tive Imagination of a paradoxical Theologue [Warburton]." 14 

Thus within the established church itself, on the eve of the Revo- 
lution, there was significant public airing of opposing views concern- 
ing the role of religious establishment. This diversity, combined with 
the changes brought about by the growth of the Presbyterians and, 
more dramatically, the Baptists — who espoused a theological basis 
for disestablishment — produced a fluid situation concerning re- 
ligious establishment at the opening of the Revolution. 

It is not surprising that in dealing with this confusing, uncertain 
situation, the assembly temporized in 1776; and during the ensuing 
years, in spite of a liberal statement on religious liberty in the Vir- 
ginia Declaration of Rights, serious consideration was given to 

62 



proposals for a general assessment. Such proposals were in accord 
with the theorizing which had buttressed the establishment of the 
Church of England and which readily could be applied to a broader 
kind of religious establishment. By specifically delaying a judgment 
on the value of a general assessment in its December, 1776, suspen- 
sion of the legislation, which had provided for clerical salaries; and 
by giving serious consideration to general assessment bills in 1779 
and 1784, the assembly explicitly demonstrated its lack of con^ 
sensus on the role of religious establishment. 

In each instance in which it postponed definite action, the as- 
sembly stated that it would delay until public opinion might be 
better known. This deference to public opinion is a significant aspect 
of the Revolution in Virginia, and the responses it elicited indicated 
a generalized concern for the welfare of society in Virginia. No longer 
was religious establishment to be taken for granted. Nor was the 
theorizing on the role of religion something to be reserved to those 
in power— whether church or state. Rather, there could be gen- 
eralized public discussion and petitioning which could influence 
legislation. 

In the course of this discussion and petitioning, many of the same 
ideas which had been emerged in the more limited pre- Revolutionary 
discussions were expressed. The proponents of a general assessment 
argued primarily from a civil viewpoint, stressing the close relation- 
ship between religious establishment and general social stability. 
They believed that establishment was necessary to guarantee the 
growth of the type of religion which would contribute to civil order. 
The opponents of assessment stressed the distinctive origin and 
functions of church and state to show that only harm could come 
to each through their alliance. Few, however, expressed a starkly 
secular concept of society. Most believed that religion could effec- 
tively contribute to social well-being if it were left free of alliance 
with the state. 

A full appreciation of the Revolution as a social movement in 
Virginia must include an understanding of the uncertainty con- 
cerning the future of religious establishment in 1776, the conti- 
nuity of pre- Revolutionary thought on the church-state alliance with 
that expressed in support of general assessment, and the significance 
of the enlivened public discussion and petitioning elicited by the 
assembly in its attempt to base the institutions of Virginia on 
proper principles. 



63 



FOOTNOTES 

1 J. Franklin Jameson, The American Revolution Considered as a Social 
Movement (Princeton, 1926), 85-90. William McLoughlin, "The Role of 
Religion in the Revolution: Liberty of Conscience and Cultural Cohesion in 
the New Nation," in Stephen G. Kurtz and James H. Hutson, eds., Essays 
on the American Revolution (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1973), 255. 

2 William H. Foote, Sketches of Virginia, Historical and Biographical 
(Philadelphia, 1864); Robert B. Howell, The Early Baptists of Virginia, rev. 
ed. (Philadelphia, 1864); Charles F. James, Documentary History of the 
Struggle for Religious Liberty in Virginia (Lynchburg, Va., 1900); Robert B. 
Semple, A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia, rev. 
and extended by G.W. Beale (Richmond, 1894). 

3 Hamilton J. Eckenrode, Separation of Church and State In Virginia: A 
Study in the Development of the Revolution, Special Report of the Depart- 
ment of Archives and History, Virginia State Library (Richmond, 1910). 

4 Marvin K. Singleton, "Colonial Virginia as First Amendment Matrix: 
Henry, Madison, and Assessment Establishment," ,4 Journal of Church and 
State, VIII (Autumn, 1966), 361. 

5 Ibid., 362. Singleton saw in Henry "a certain lack of fixed principle evi- 
denced by the contrast between his Two-Penny position and his assess- 
ment views." 

6 This discussion of Warburton's views is based on Arthur W. Evans, War- 
burton and the Warburtonians: A Study in Some Eighteenth Century Con- 
troversies (London, 1932). 

7 The Clergy of Virginia to the Bishop of London, November 29, 1755, in 
William S. Perry, ed., Historical Collections Relating to the American 
Colonial Church (Hartford, Conn., 1870), I, 434. 

8 MS letter of James Maury, October 25, 1759, in the Maury Family Papers, 
University of Virginia Library. 

9 The quotations are from a summary of Henry's argument given in William 
Wirt Henry, Patrick Henry: Life, Correspondence and Speeches (New York, 
1891), I, 40-41. 

10 Purdie and Dixon's Virginia Gazette, June 6, 1771. 

11 Thomas Gwatkin, A Letter to the Clergy of New York and New Jersey, 
Occasioned by an Address to the Episcopalians of Virginia (Williamsburg, 
1772), passim. 

12 Samuel Henley, The Distinct Claims of Government and Religion, a 
Sermon Preached before the Honourable House of Burgesses at Williams- 
burg in Virginia, March 1, 1772 (Cambridge, 1112), passim. 

13 Purdie and Dixon's Virginia Gazette, Supplement, May 20, 1773. 

14 Purdie and Dixon's Virginia Gazette, June 3, 1773. 



64 



JONATHAN BOUCHER: 
THE LOYALIST AS REBEL 

By 
Carol R. Berkin* 

"There was nothing quite ordinary or indifferent about me," 
Jonathan Boucher noted with self-consciousness and a touch of 
pride. "My faults and my good qualities were all striking. All my 
friends (and no man ever had more friends) really loved me; and all 
my enemies as cordially hated me." The accuracy of Boucher's state- 
ment grew as the years passed. For if Boucher's contemporaries 
were perhaps less struck by the extremities of his personality and 
his private history than he imagined, historians of the Revolutionary 
era have hardly been indifferent. Unlike other exiles and refugees, 
he has not suffered the ignominity of oblivion; rather he has served 
as the symbolic Loyalist, alternately praised as a true defender of 
King, country, church, and social order, or vilified as a social elitist 
and political reactionary. Much of Boucher's appeal has seemed to 
be the promise of clarity: here is a man who could, after all, be pinned 
down. His political attitudes could be traced directly to Sir Robert 
Filmer. His social conservatism was linked to his class. His loyalty 
to the Crown was a logical product of his English birth and his in- 
stitutional affiliation with the Church. Whether praised or con- 
demned, Jonathan Boucher could at least be said to be understood, 
and insofar as historians sought to understand the Loyalists, this 
was sufficient. 1 

Yet if history does not change, historians do. The Loyalists are 
today rescued from oblivion, and any search for the nature and 
causes of the Revolution is admitted to require an examination of 
the opposition as much as the movement itself. Thus as the Revolu- 
tion becomes more complex and richer in texture, the temptation 
to write about Jonathan Boucher for all the old reasons remains: in 
the confusing variations of motivation, material circumstances, 
self-perception, and political ideology among individuals and groups, 
the long acclaimed logic and consistency of Boucher's commitment 
to loyalty seems a refuge. Even this small luxury is now denied us, 
however, for the recent biographers of Boucher have shown tradi- 
tional interpretation to be as inaccurate as it was always neat. 
Boucher's Filmerism has proven to be a complex constitutional mon- 
archism, while his firm support of Parliament and royal policy in 



*The author gratefully acknowledges assistance for her research by the Re- 
search Foundation of City University and the American Council of Learned 
Societies. 

65 



the 1770's contradicted his early opposition to royal policies; more- 
over, his alleged social conservatism has been questioned because 
of his concern for the education of blacks and his toleration of Indian 
populations, which were far in advance of most Southern patriot 
leaders. 2 

Boucher, then, is not the perfect Loyalist, not the archetype 
against which we can conveniently measure the Loyalism of others. 
But if he cannot be made to stand for Loyalism in the old, simple 
manner, perhaps he has not lost his value to us. Boucher's history 
in America reminds us that the Revolution has a psychological di- 
mension worth examining. In his struggle to assimilate and interpret 
the nature of the revolutionary conflict, and in his struggle to define 
his own role in that conflict, Boucher's experience illuminates vividly 
the personal crisis of men and women in revolutionary times. 

Jonathan Boucher was born in Cumberland, England, in 1738. 3 
Although his parents cherished memories of the grandeur and 
nobility of ancestors, their immediate reality was a steady decline 
into mean poverty. "I remember," Boucher later wrote from the 
safety of secure surroundings, "only that we lived in such a state of 
penury and hardship as I have never since seen equalled, no not even 
in parish almshouses." 4 Boucher's father was an amiable drunk and 
a charming ne'er-do-well, qualities his son recollected more with 
wonder than anger or disapproval. To his son, James Boucher was 
simply a man who lacked discipline and will, and whose charm 
seemed to preclude such ordinary virtues as self-restraint. 

As a boy, Boucher lived the life of the hardworking, rural poor. 
Yet he wrote of himself that he was mischievous and "naturally lazy" 
and likely, as his neighbors predicted, to come to a bad end. 
Boucher's harsh judgment of himself rested on measurements of 
degree rather than kind. He knew that he was not always lazy or 
mischievous or self-indulgent, but for him consistency seemed the 
requisite for any virtue. Boucher lacked a sense of harmon}' or 
balance; in himself he saw only struggle and contradiction. In the 
rhythms of discipline and self-indulgence, work and play, he read a 
fatal inability on his part to establish a steady character. 

Whether laziness or a reasonable discontent with manual labor 
spurred him, by age fifteen Boucher had determined to flee the farm. 
He could envision no alternatives to farm work save school-keeping, 
however, and by 1754 he was teaching thirty-two young boys during 
the day and instructing adults in the evening. Boucher's own edu- 
cation kept him only a few steps ahead of his pupils. Still, he was 
earning money by his wits rather than his hands. 

In the next few years, as he struggled to improve his skills and 
his prospects, Boucher encountered two significant figures in his 

66 



life. Both were Anglican clergy, both teachers, and both had the 
steadiness of character that Boucher sought for himself. The first, a 
Reverend Ritson of Workington, tutored Boucher in mathematics. 
The second, Reverend John James, hired Boucher in 1756 to assist 
him at his small school, St. Bee's. Boucher worshipped the hard- 
working and methodical James, under whose wing the younger man 
felt himself developing a steady and rational existence. Yet in 1759, 
when Boucher learned of a teaching post in Virginia, he eagerly 
sought and won it. Willingly, Boucher laid aside the secure and 
ordered sanctuary of St. Bee's, attracted obviously by the extrava- 
gant salary of £ 60 a year and by the opportunity for advancement 
America seemed to offer. But there were other less tangible benefits. 
The Virginia post provided a chance to gratify once more that rest- 
less and undisciplined side of his character he could hold in check 
but never conquer. Unable to resolve the contradictions of his per- 
sonality, Boucher relieved his tensions by shifting to extremes. 
To Boucher's eyes, Virginia was a different world from Cumber- 
land. It was a land of plenty and abundance, "most invitingly de- 
lightful," whose people lived well and enjoyed life "without any 
Labour." They were, he conceded, rather shallow people, inclined 
to levity rather than serious conversation, but their susceptibility 
to the easy life struck a chord in him. 5 Above all Virginia was an 
exotic place. Its air in deep summer was so thick it seemed to per- 
vade people's very characters. The heat "fevers the Blood and sets all 
the animal Spirits in an Uprore," he told James. All restraints 
melted, and Virginians were rendered "Strangers to that Cool Steadi- 
ness w'c you in Engl'd justly value yourselves upon. ..." No wonder 
that Boucher admonished James to "drop all Reserve" in his corres- 
pondence and be more critical. "Be so much my Friend as to be in 
appearance my Enemy," he urged, an ocean away from the safety 
of St. Bee's. 6 

Captain Dixon introduced Boucher into the social world of the 
"toddy drinkers." He quickly made friends among these local 
grandees. By February of 1760 Boucher no longer wrote of coping 
with his situation in Virginia. He now admitted to an enjoyment 
of it. The people had accepted him as one of them, if not wholly, at 
least enough to satisfy him for the time being. Yet here in an atmo- 
sphere in which self-restraint was not valued, Boucher began to 
discover a reservoir of natural sobriety and delicacy within himself. 
His new friends had dubbed him the "parson" because of what they 
judged his unaccountable "splenetic grave manner." In truth, 
Boucher told James, the colonists considered him dull. 7 There was 
surely an irony to be enjoyed in all this. Boucher, the English prof- 
ligate; Boucher, the Virginia parson. 



67 



What could be made of Boucher's mixed reactions to his new 
surroundings? His vacillation between homesickness and excitement 
was, after all, only the behavior to be expected of a newcomer ad- 
justing to a society unlike his own. Yet it was peculiar to Boucher 
that, from start to end, his comparison of the two societies rested 
on a projection of total opposition: England stood for order, sanity, 
personal restraint; America was the land of indulgence and animal 
madness. 

"Parson" Boucher gave little thought to a career in the Church 
that first year in Virginia. His energies were focused entirely on the 
world of trade, but his maiden project to sponsor a shipment of goods 
met with disaster. The philandering Captain Dixon demanded an 
ungentlemanly quid pro quo for a loan, and Boucher's only link to 
the commercial world suddenly went bankrupt. Within a few short 
weeks his promising career was aborted. 

Boucher was disillusioned by these events. It was all too clear that 
passions were not controlled in this country, nor were consequences 
faced squarely by men. Prosperous enterprises crumbled without 
warning. He was still as determined to rise quickly in the world — 
but now he wondered, how? He was twenty-two and the truth was 
that he had no respectable or promising profession. Then in 1761, one 
of his new friends, Reverend Giberne, offered to recommend Boucher 
for the vacant post of Rector of Hanover Parish in Virginia. The 
offer, Boucher knew, could not be dismissed out of hand. Though 
the clergy were not accorded great prestige they were given land, 
and there was a certain security in joining the church's ranks. Mer- 
cantile firms came and went, but the Church of England endured. 
Boucher decided to accept the offer, though it meant a return to 
England for ordination. It was an expensive trip for a man whose 
assets were potential rather than real. When he sailed for England 
in the winter of 1761, after two years in the land of opportunities, 
Boucher had succeeded only in tripling his debts. 

Following ordination, Boucher returned to America accepting a po- 
sition at Hanover Parish. His parishioners liked him, and his school 
attracted several young men of good family. His wealth increased 
as he acquired slaves, cattle, and horses. Yet Boucher was miserable 
and restless. When St. Mary's in Caroline County, Virginia, became 
vacant, Boucher eagerly took this new parish. 

His tenure at St. Mary's was long and successful, but Boucher 
leaves a record of unhappiness. He threw himself into his work, 
furiously writing sermons, expanding his necessary but always 
repugnant duties as schoolmaster, managing his plantation and 
household. His early years here were, like those at St. Bee's, years 
of "industry and exertion [that] were extraordinary." 8 Yet no peace 



68 



of mind came from this industrious life. His parishoners cared no 
more for intellectually challenging sermons than his sociable com- 
panions for serious conversation. Although he filled his days with 
work, his self-discipline faltered at night, and evenings were spent 
in hard-drinking. 

Boucher was perhaps most disturbed by his inability to embrace 
the theological foundations of his own calling. Looking for answers 
to his own questions, he began to devour the works of modern, 
popular critics of the Church. These writers challenged ritual and 
credo, exposing internal contradictions or inherent illogic in the 
traditional tenets of faith. Boucher's mind swirled. Such bold attacks 
seemed to him affirmations of modernity, testimony to intellectual 
intensity, and, even more appealingly, assertions of personal inde- 
pendence of thought. This spirit of independence struck a chord in 
him, and the rebellious posture fitted an image he held of himself. 
It pleased Boucher to think that lack of internal discipline could be 
a virtue in the pursuit of knowledge, and that receptivity to ideas 
seemed to be the reward of the disorderly mind. 

As Boucher's doubts about his Church's theology gave way to 
conscious rebellion, his church services grew increasingly unorth- 
odox. He thanked his American circumstances for the freedom to 
act with such independence. Not surprisingly Boucher's independent 
spirit was reflected in his politics as well. England's new colonial 
policies evoked thoroughly Whiggish sentiments from him. He hotly 
denounced the Stamp Act as "oppressive, impolitic, and illegal." 9 
Boucher's political views did not, of course, spring directly from 
midnight struggles with theological demons. The grandees whose 
attention he craved and whose sons he tutored were good Whigs 
themselves. If Boucher would belong socially he must naturally be 
correct in his politics. 

Toward the end of the 1760's Boucher began to retreat from his 
rebellion. When he spoke of it later, the entire episode of doubt and 
denial was described as no more than a formal, internal debate, 
surely not a crisis, and he claimed that he had never been so caught 
up as to fail to be a judicious student of the issues. He had set about 
to read both sides and to continue to be an "orthodox believer" until 
he resolved his own position. Resolution came, he recorded, through 
a return to the Scriptures, and to their injunction to put faith above 
efforts to understand. Thus five years of questioning and challenge 
were reduced to a moment of doubt. 10 By the end of the decade 
Boucher had chosen a new role for himself. He now embraced the 
authority he had once resisted. He had reached a watershed, for at 
thirty Boucher began to set his philosophical and psychological 
houses in strictest order. 

The acceptance of orthodoxy marked the beginning of a personal 

69 



maturity for Boucher. In resolving his religious crisis, he had chosen 
to follow the steady path without the aid of a respected authority like 
John James. His whole focus now shifted: he discovered that the 
source of strength for men and women lay not in the magical 
influence of special individuals but in the structure of major social 
institutions and in their traditions. 

Change did not come at once in all areas of Boucher's life. In 
politics he remained a supporter of colonial protest and challenge 
well into 1770. In personal behavior, he retained his blend of im- 
petuosity and compulsive self-control. But Boucher's devotion to the 
institutional framework, which sustained order and offered an 
individual a meaningful and secure place within it, was now estab- 
lished. In the next three years, as patrons and bureaucrats in Mary- 
land frequently made promises of appointment which could not be 
kept, Boucher's respect for persons in authority diminished. But 
his concern for the dignity of their offices did not. As a result, he 
began to see that once attractive openness of American society in a 
less favorable light. He perceived that the colonial branches of 
church and state were dangerously weak and felt that without these 
institutions people would be forced to depend only upon their indi- 
vidual steadiness of character to sustain their society and themselves. 

Boucher sought to strengthen both secular and religious insti- 
tutions, for he was convinced of the intricate interdependence of 
these two spheres. He saw an order in things established in 
scriptural and constitutional laws, and sustained by a hierarchical 
structure that reached from the smallest social unit, the patriarchal 
family, to the largest units of church and nation. The family was any 
society's base, and in it religious and political authority were united 
in one figure: the father. In the larger, more complex society of many 
families, the unity appeared to dissolve, and state and church insti- 
tutions specialized in the regulation of social and spiritual man and 
woman. But the separation was functional, not organic. The two 
were merely branches of the whole. For Boucher, compelling proof 
of this unity lay in the fact that identical human responses were 
necessary to sustain or destroy either hierarchy. Obedience, faith, 
respect, submission, all the virtues which needed nurturing, secured 
both church and state, while pride, the restless spirit of innovation, 
human fickleness, all the flaws of the human character, threatened 
them equally. A blow to one must be felt by the other. His American 
sermons repeat this theme of interdependence, and embellish it: 
schism, irreligion, and deism find their counterparts in factionalism, 
republicanism, and radicalism. "A levelling republican spirit in the 
Church," Boucher warned, "naturally leads to republicanism in 
the state." 11 

In such a vision of the organic wholeness of the spiritual and social 

70 



realms, there was nothing particularly original or unusual for an 
Anglican clergyman. Nor did it represent the reactionary hysteria 
by which Boucher was later labeled. It was simply an attempt of 
a maturing man to shape a coherent view of the larger world in which 
he lived. 

In all likelihood, Boucher's intellectual maturation would not have 
taken root had not his material circumstances undergone change 
as well. In 1769 his long awaited appointment came — and it was a 
plum. Boucher was to become rector of St. Anne's in Annapolis, the 
"genteelist town in America," inhabited by men "highly respectable, 
as to station, fortune, and education." Two years later, appointed 
to Queen Anne's Parish in Prince George County, Jonathan Boucher 
had, at last, attained success. 12 His wealth, on paper, steadily 
increased. His preferment was worth £250; his marriage to Eleanor 
Addison in 1772 brought property worth £2,500; he was a plantation 
owner, a master of slaves, a speculator in land. By November of 1773, 
Boucher reckoned himself worth £3,000. If, somehow, he never 
seemed to have money in his purse, it was negligence and an incur- 
able urge to take risks that caused him to be empty-handed. 13 Still 
Boucher had enough to begin to re- acquire his family's land in 
England, to support his ne'er-do-well brother-in-law's family, and to 
pay penance for an indiscretion by supporting and educating two 
young girls. His social position was fully secured, not so much by 
reason of his profession or property, but by his marriage to Nelly 
Addison. The union brought more than wealth and happiness. It 
joined him to that network of the Dulanys and Addisons, the most 
powerful elements in Maryland society. 

Boucher was not a little proud of his success. He had fulfilled 
the colonial world's promise of opportunity. Moreover, his political 
position in relation to patronage was far more desirable than it had 
been in Virginia. He would never again be a beggar of favors in 
America, for he had acquired influence with the new young governor 
of Maryland, Sir Robert Eden. But the sweetness of success came 
also from the recognition and the affirmation that Boucher was a 
mature and responsible man. He believed his material gains mani- 
fested this image. During the years of waiting in Virginia the desire 
to be so acknowledged had grown sharp. He had resolved that his 
public reception must be made to match his private confidence; the 
outer trappings must correspond to the inner growth. And in this 
new colony — despite the tempest that immediately surrounded 
him — an equilibrium of public and private image was achieved. 

"I flatter myself," Boucher remarked in 1771, that "I may quietly 
repose myself for the Remainder of my Life, under my own vine, 
Bless 'd with that Ease, Competence, and Independence, which I 
have so long been in search of." But such a placid life was never his. 

71 



The tumult of the 1770's— the debate over the episcopacy, the 
acrimonious battle in Maryland between administration and as- 
sembly over the form of subsidy to the Church, and the gradual but 
steady recasting of all political issues in the 1770's as conflicts of 
local and imperial interests— was the reality of Boucher's world. Yet 
the struggles between imperial authority and local will seemed to 
bring about a personal crisis in Boucher's life. His involvement in 
this struggle was a logical, though not inevitable, outgrowth of his 
own decision to actively serve the institutions he had recently 
affirmed. 14 

In this congruence of the external and internal, Boucher is perhaps 
unusual among loyalists, for in an ideological sense, the 1770's 
caught many of them unaware and without a coherent analysis of 
their society or their own circumstances. Indeed, many were struck 
a sudden blow, forcing inchoate, unarticulated notions of the value 
and appropriateness of the structures they supported into hasty 
order. 

Boucher had earlier dealt with these very questions of social order 
and organization. If his most extensive written discourses on the 
"American problem" were composed after he left America in 1775, 
still his analysis was not retrospective: Jonathan Boucher knew what 
was wrong with American society when he arrived in Maryland. The 
current crisis, he thought, was rooted in the fact that Crown and 
colonists, in their rush to establish an American empire, had allowed 
threats to social order to grow unchecked. Now the colonial society 
was falling victim to its own excesses which, tragically, had taken 
root even within the colonial government and church. Individual 
opportunity, social mobility, the presence of vast natural resources, 
as well as the benign policy of the Mother Country contributed to 
the instability of a society without the solid foundations needed to 
sustain it. And now a state without a tradition of executive vigor, 
an established church less secure than local dissenting sects, and a 
ruling class without the legitimation of time or continuity were 
being asked to restrain republicanism and dissent. Moreover, the 
governing classes had succumbed to the appeal of individualism, 
and demeaned civil government by their own example as factious 
politicans. Their authority diminished and the people ruled them, 
so that the natural political leaders were required to learn to speak 
and act so as to please their inferiors. Other dependent leaders — more 
evil in Boucher's eyes — consciously exploited their symbiotic rela- 
tionship with the people. These rulers gained ascendancy by posing 
as the people's champions, but they manipulated the "humble lot." 
Their goal, Boucher was certain, was the total destruction of legiti- 
mate government, even though their banners read "information 
of abuses." 

72 



The Church in America, now no more than a shadow of its former 
self, could not be expected to restrain these "restless men." The 
crumbling church buildings were themselves testimony to the 
institution's decline. The ministry too, Boucher admitted, "was as 
shabby as you could bear to look at. . . ," 16 

For five stormy years Boucher struggled to improve Maryland's 
institutions. In these battles his social vision and his self-interest 
smoothly overlapped; and while his fate was directly linked to that 
of his Church, it was not from such narrow personal considerations 
that Boucher felt he acted. It was his commitment to a vision of the 
good society that propelled him into an active role in the religious 
conflicts in the 1770's. During this period, Boucher unsuccessfully 
sought to shore up the Church through the implementation of two 
reforms. He attempted to convince Mary landers of the wisdom of 
an Anglican bishop for America, but the suspicion of political in- 
fluence remained strong among the colonists, and the plan was 
defeated. He also sought to prevent the commutation of church 
subsidies from tobacco to cash. At stake here was a considerable 
decrease in income for men like himself. Boucher confessed his 
concern over his personal stake, but he claimed to be equally 
troubled by the consequences of this impoverishment of the clergy. 
By degrading the man, the office inevitably was degraded as well. 
Nevertheless, a "few meddling, half-learned, popular lawyers of 
Maryland," led by men like Samuel Chase and William Paca, carried 
the assembly battle and pressured Governor Eden into signing 
the bill. 17 

Boucher's vigorous campaigning on both religious issues coupled 
with his conspicuous role as Eden's adviser, earned him permanent 
and powerful enemies. "All the forward and noisy patriots," Boucher 
noted, now viewed him as obnoxious. By 1773 he felt himself the 
object of continual harassment. Even in his own parish Boucher was 
kept in a "constant fever," for here there was no bond of affection 
between churchgoer and spiritual leader, and the radicals were 
numerous and well organized. Nor were these people shy in express- 
ing themselves. It was a struggle for him to wrest even the most 
sullen truce from these "singularly violent, purse-proud, and factious 
people." 18 

Throughout the early seventies, Boucher's situation grew steadily 
worse. "I daily met with insults, indignities, and injuries," he later 
recalled. The campaign against him developed an increasingly 
ominous tone as the popular party formed extralegal organizations 
that began to overshadow legitimate government, and various en- 
forcement committees took up Boucher's case. Although he con- 
tinued to suffuse his writings and his sermons with an air of 

73 



authority and advisement, he was now clearly on the defensive. The 
opposition, with its congresses, its provisional governments, and 
its "banditti" committees, had gained the upper hand. Boucher 
was not prescient and did not predict the Revolution's date or its 
outcome, but by the summer of 1774, he had surely begun to con- 
template his defeat. The institutions of order were weaker now than 
they had ever been. By the mid-1770's Boucher believed the church 
in Maryland had "received its death's blow." Legitimate government, 
too, had been brought to its knees. Republican lawyers who, to 
Boucher's consternation, seemed to spring up spontaneously, con- 
trolled the press and the assemblies of Maryland and Virginia— and 
all of New England life. The always weak American institutions were 
now beyond self-revitalization ; only a drastic razing and rebuilding 
would do. Nothing would be set right "without a total Revolution 
in American Politics." Thus while the American opposition still 
hesitated to name their goal, Boucher and other loyalists throughout 
the colonies began to call openly for revolution. Boucher recognized 
that such a revolution— or "new-modelling"— was entirely beyond 
his powers to initiate or execute. The fate of America must finally be 
decided in England. In this new phase of the struggle, loyal Amer- 
icans could play no more than marginal roles. Boucher resigned him- 
self to the role of critic of radical arguments and activities. 19 

Boucher's emotional confrontation with the Coercive Acts crisis 
of 1774 was less easily resolved. He did not blame himself for the 
clear, though hopefully temporary, defeat of established Church 
and legal State, but the acknowledgement that social order was 
failing must have provoked anxiety within him. The maintenance 
of his own inner equilibrium had depended heavily upon the insti- 
tutions now in disarray before him. He resisted the impulse to flee, 
to deny the change in the balance of powers around him. He did go 
so far that summer as to retreat to the Lodge, a Potomac plantation 
far from the tensions of life in Queen Anne's Parish. But Boucher's 
energies were directed to assimilating reality, not denying it. The 
problem was how to define himself in, and to, a world rapidly turning 
upside down. He knew that the institutions that had sustained him 
were, for the moment, dependent upon him. Their principles could 
now survive only through individuals. Boucher's role was to embody 
that system of values now cut adrift of its institutional moorings. 
His importance to his cause rested in the style in which he con- 
fronted his enemies. By demanding personal respect, he would insure 
his cause some of the respect it was due. The result was a year of 
confrontation and defiance. Without any sense of irony, Jonathan 
Boucher slipped once again into the role of rebel. 

Much of Boucher's fame or notoriety rests upon this performance, 



74 



short but brilliant, as a rebel against rebels. Certainly his enemies 
gave him ample opportunity to play the part in 1774 and 1775. The 
radicals demanded pledges of loyalty to their cause; repeatedly, 
and firmly, Boucher resisted. His absolute refusal to sign an oath 
of loyalty to the popular cause angered Mary landers, and it was not 
long before informations were signed against him, naming him an 
enemy to America. When an armed escort arrived in 1774 to take 
Boucher before a local Committee, both radicals and their suspects 
seemed ready for their confrontation. In the face of his enemies, 
Boucher was the image of self-confidence and haughty disdain. He 
denied their authority and dismissed their power to arrest. He went 
to speak with their Committee, he said, as one gentleman to other 
gentlemen assembled. After charges were read against him, Boucher 
rose to respond; but he did not address himself to the authorities 
before him. Rather, he pleaded his case with the crowd gathered to 
observe the formalities. Boucher, the impassioned spokesman against 
arbitrary authority, argued his right to resist republicanism by 
appealing to rank and file republicans. In defense of legitimate law 
and order, he could enjoy the new power of the demagogue and the 
old role of the stubborn resister. 20 

In this dangerous game of reversing the tables, Boucher was not 
always successful; but in this instance the audience voted his 
acquittal, and Boucher returned home unmolested. Not long after, 
in Alexandria, Virginia, he persuaded a hostile mob that they were 
being used by his accuser to settle a purely personal grudge, not a 
political issue. Confrontations like this may have delighted the 
determined and dedicated Boucher, but the Alexandria incident 
deeply frightened his wife Nelly. Afterward, she wrung from her 
husband a promise not to leave his Potomac retreat without good 
reason. In March 1775, Boucher surrendered his post in Queen 
Anne's Parish and took up duties in Henry Addison's church near 
his home. Still, if Boucher was not available for confrontation in the 
streets, he continued to speak his mind in the pulpit. Challenging 
the mood of his congregants, Boucher preached the importance of 
"peaceableness." Immediately, angry parishioners stood and left 
the church. Threats only hardened Boucher's resolve, and thereafter 
the minister who urged peaceableness and passive resistance preached 
with loaded pistols beside his sermon notes. 21 

When the provisional government declared May 11 a day of 
fasting, Boucher set himself on a collision course with his enemies. 
He thought his duty clear: "God was a God of order," not revolution. 
He would preach that day at Queen Anne's, and speak out against 
the use of the pulpit for such obviously inappropriate political ends. 

Boucher was greeted at his own Church by 200 armed men, deter- 

75 



mined to prevent him preaching. Despite their threats, Boucher 
moved toward the pulpit. A friend prevented him from reaching it, 
certain that ascending the pulpit would mean Boucher's death. The 
mob encircled the two men and, for once, Boucher's enemies' victory 
appeared complete. But, suddenly, and in characteristic fashion, 
Boucher outmaneuvered them. He grabbed their leader by his collar, 
aimed a loaded pistol at the startled man's head, and loudly threat- 
ened to blow his brains out unless a path to the church door was 
cleared. 22 

It was Boucher's last act of public defiance. Friends urged him 
to leave the colony immediately. Enemies were equally persuasive. 
It was only a matter of time before the radicals proscribed him for 
refusing to take an oath of loyalty to their rebel government. All 
summer Boucher wrestled with the pros and cons of self-imposed 
exile. The fate of his investments and his property was uncertain, 
even if, as he assured Nelly, "the Storm would blow over" in six 
months. The best plan would be to leave Nelly Boucher at the Lodge 
on the Potomac, there to take care of her own fragile health and of 
Boucher's material wealth as best she could. In September, however, 
the radicals — and his wife — took matters out of his hands. Early that 
month the Committee of Safety resolved to confront Boucher. He 
knew it was imperative that he flee, but with the moment of sepa- 
ration actually upon her, Nelly B cher refused to stay behind. She 
was coming with her husband to England. Boucher managed to 
make good their escape, and on Saturday, September 9th, he packed 
the few belongings they were to take; the following day he and his 
wife boarded a small schooner that would take them to the awaiting 
frigate Choptank. Monday, the Committee of Safety arrived at the 
Lodge to find the Reverend Jonathan Boucher was not at home. 

Boucher never returned "home.'' Perhaps he never expected to. 
He spoke of a six-month absence from America, but added that a 
little self-delusion on such occasions is not to be discouraged. "I 
wished to believe we should return. . . ." 23 

There are few more vivid examples of the complexity of human 
response to the Revolutionary crisis than the life of Jonathan 
Boucher in America. No one was a more formidable opponent of the 
colonial rebellion than he; no loyalist presented a more coherent and 
comprehensive critique of the Lockean principles upon which that 
rebellion was based. And although many loyalists interpreted the 
Revolution as a battle of anarchy against order, Boucher most elo- 
quently developed this theme. Yet his own life is testimony to the 
fact that rebellion can be a psychic posture as well as a political one. 
Despite his conservative — some have argued, reactionary — ideology, 
Boucher, in the crisis of 1774, responded to events and circumstances 

76 



by adopting a role both familiar and attractive to him: the rebel. 
Boucher did not and could not create a Revolution so that he might 
play the rebellious role again with impunity from his own conscience. 
To the contrary, all that we can discover about him indicates that, 
after his own personal crisis in the late 1760's, he never again sought 
that role. The historical truth is that 1774 thrust the part upon him, 
as it did potentially upon loyalists everywhere. Men and women — 
staunch supporters of a conservative status quo — faced a radically 
altered reality in which they might find themselves rebelling against 
rebels, defying authorities they did not acknowledge in the name of 
authority overturned, resisting the pull of a new social order in the 
interests of preserving an old one. For some the role was impossible 
to sustain, for it contradicted their nature just as the rebellion ran 
contrary to their political convictions. In these men and women, 
personality and ideology were at one. But Boucher's response makes 
us acknowledge that such perfect congruence was not always the 
case. Some of his strongest personal impulses and his deepest in- 
tellecutal commitments came into harmony when he emerged a rebel 
in the name of orthodoxy. 

The fascination, and perhaps much of the importance of the 
Revolutionary era remains, in part, the fact that it was an extra- 
ordinary moment in history, a crisis period which forced into the 
sharpest focus conflicts and contradictions within individuals that 
in calmer times seemed negligible. If the larger social crisis is ulti- 
mately only an aggregate of these individual crises, the very par- 
ticular lives of people like Jonathan Boucher gain importance to 
historians. With exquisite irony, the Revolution fulfilled Boucher. 
But in many men and women it seems likely that the same Revo- 
lution forced a less bearable juxtaposition of personality and ide- 
ology. One thing seems certain: the American Revolution prompted 
in many an internal war, a war, if we will, of intellect and emotion. 

FOOTNOTES 

1 Jonathan Boucher, ed., Reminiscences of an American Loyalist, 1738-1789 
(Boston and New York, 1927), 80. Among the many works in which Boucher 
is discussed, see Vernon Parrington, Main Currents in American Thought: 
1620-1800, the Colonial Mind (New York, 1927); Claude Van Tyne, The 
Loyalists in the American Revolution (New York, 1902); Max Savelle, Seeds 
of Liberty: The Genesis of the American Mind (New York, 1948); Richard 
Gummere, "Jonathan Boucher, Toryissmus," Maryland Historical Maga- 
zine, LV ( 1960), 138-145; Moses Coit Tyler, Literary History of the American 
Revolution, 1736-1783 (New York, 1897); William Nelson, The American 
Tory (Boston, 1964); James E. Pate, "Jonathan Boucher, An American 
Loyalist," Maryland Historical Magazine, XXV (1930), 305-319. 

2 Anne Y. Zimmer, "Jonathan Boucher: Moderate Loyalist and Public Man" 

77 



(unpublished doctoral dissertation, Wayne State University, 1966). See also 
Anne Y. Zimmer and Alfred H. Kelly, "Jonathan Boucher: Constitutional 
Conservative," Journal of American History, XVIII (March, 1972), 897-922; 
Michael Clark, "Jonathan Boucher: The Mirror of Reaction," Huntington 
Library Quarterly, XXXIII (November, 1969), 19-32. 

3 The most complete account of Jonathan Boucher's life (although not 
always the most accurate) is his own autobiography, Reminiscences. The 
narrative of this essay draws largely from this autobiography, and from the 
Jonathan Boucher Papers, East Pelham Record Office, Lewes, England, 
partially reprinted in the Maryland Historical Magazine. 

4 Boucher, Reminiscences, 9. 

5 Boucher to John James, August 7, 1759, Md. Hist. Mag., VII (1912), 2-8. 

6 Boucher to James, September 14, 1759, August 7, 1759, ibid., VII, 8-11, 
2-8. 

7 Boucher to James, February, 1760, ibid., VII, 21-26. 

8 Boucher, Reminiscences, 41. 

9 Boucher to James, December 9, 1765, November 28, 1767, Md. Hist. Mag., 
VII, 294-300, 351-356. 

10 Boucher, Reminiscences, 43, 45. 

11 Jonathan Boucher, A View of the Causes and Consequences of the Amer- 
ican Revolution; in Thirteen Discourses, Preached in North America 
between the Years 1763 and 1775: With an Historical Preface (London, 
1797), 104; for emphasis on this theme, see Discourse II, IV, VII, and VIII 
of the volume. 

12 Boucher to James, November 26, 1768, July 25, 1769, Md. Hist. Mag., 
VII, 34-43; Boucher, Reminiscences, 65. 

13 Boucher, Reminiscences, 65. 

14 Boucher to James, April 4, 1771, Md. Hist. Mag., VIII, 176-178. For good 
discussions of Maryland before the Revolution, see Zimmer, "Jonathan 
Boucher", unpublished dissertation, and Charles Albro Barker, The Back- 
ground of the Revolution in Maryland (New Haven, 1940). 

15 Boucher, Reminiscences, 103; Boucher, A View, 310, 393. 

16 Boucher to James, August 25, 1770, Md. Hist. Mag., VIII, 171-176. 

17 See Zimmer, "Jonathan Boucher, Unpublished dissertation; Boucher, 
A View, 222, 234. 

18 Boucher, Reminiscences, 74, 93, 96. 

19 Boucher, Reminiscences, 105, 128-136; Boucher to William Smith, May 4, 
1775, Md. Hist. Mag., VIII, 237-240; Jonathan Boucher, A Letter from a 
Virginian to the Members of the Congress to be Held at Philadelphia on the 
first of September, 1774 (Boston, 1774). 

20 Boucher, A View, 204, 212; Boucher, Reminiscences, 106-108; Boucher 
to Smith, May 4, 1775, Md. Hist. Mag., VIII, 237-240. 

21 Boucher, Reminiscences, 110-112, 113. 

22 Ibid., 121-122. 
2:i Ibid., 127. 

78 



THE LABOR FRONT 
DURING THE REVOLUTION 

By 

Elizabeth Cometti 

"The greedy Merchant begins first to devour, and then the once 
called honest Farmer, plays on the string of avarice, calling it self 
defence: and we who work for wages, are cut between the wheted 
wheel," complained a workingman during the Revolution. 1 Yet 
his position was not without advantages. Work was plentiful and 
wages were good, perhaps even better than they had been in the 
past. At the same time, however, the cost of living rose sharply, thus 
reducing the real wage. 2 

Following the adoption of the Continental Association in 1774, it 
was generally expected that non-importation would continue for 
several years, war or no war. This led the advocates of American 
industrialism to utilize the political crisis for their ends. The man- 
agers of the United Company of Philadelphia contended that Penn- 
sylvanians could save £250,000 sterling annually by manufacturing 
their own cloth. Besides advancing the cause of liberty, the enter- 
prise would provide employment for many poor people and encour- 
age immigration of foreign artisans. The promoters denied that 
increased labor demands would draw workers from agriculture; 
industry, they said, could tap two fresh sources of manpower— women 
and children. Shortly after its organization, the United Company 
employed four hundred people and sought additional capital in order 
to advance "private interest, charity to the poor, and the public 
good." Some merchants imported experienced women spinners in 
lieu of the proscribed British commodities. Most of the several 
thousand women engaged in textile manufacturing in the Phila- 
delphia area did the work in their homes under the putting-out 
system. 3 

To further offset the effects of non-importation and to prepare 
for war, the revolutionary governments passed numerous resolutions 
for encouraging the production of wool, flax, cotton, hemp, madder, 
cloth paper, chemicals, buttons, glass, salt, nails, stockings, tin- 
plate, powder, fire-arms, malt liquors, wool combs, and other goods 
of current or anticipated scarcity. These resolutions in turn inspired 
local bodies to offer rewards for the production of essential articles. 
A Philadelphia establishment even announced a prize of £15 for sixty 
thousand or more cocoons raised in Pennsylvania at one crop within 
a single family. 4 

With the outbreak of hostilities emphasis shifted from civilian 

79 



to military production. Producers of war materials were offered 
financial inducements such as interest-free loans from public funds 
and guarantees of profits. The Connecticut Assembly promised 
monetary premiums for every stand of arms manufactured before 
October, 1775, and for gun locks, saltpeter, and sulphur. A later act 
offered a bounty of £30 for the first five hundred pounds of gun- 
powder produced in the colony and £10 for every hundred pounds 
of saltpeter on condition that the manufacturer agree to reveal the 
materials and process used for making the latter. Newspapers carried 
directions for producing saltpeter and the New York Committee of 
Safety printed three thousand leaflets containing "the most plain 
and easy experiments" for its manufacture. These generous incen- 
tives for military production led some manufacturers of consumer 
goods to seek similar assistance on the ground that their under- 
taking would provide work for "the industrious poor." 5 

Whetted by rosy prospects of guaranteed profits, bounties, pre- 
miums, prizes, and other inducements, the provincials enthusi- 
astically went to work manufacturing fire-arms and saltpeter, 
casting mortars and shells, erecting rolling and slitting mills, and 
scrabbling for basic materials. Faulty methods were immediately 
discarded for better ones. Confidence was high. 6 

Provision of an adequate supply of laborers— both skilled and 
unskilled— was, nevertheless, a persistent problem. The abnormal 
demand for skilled labor created by industrial expansion was par- 
tially met by the importation of foreign artisans and the increased 
use of apprentices. Still the manpower shortage became so acute in 
Virginia that a Williamsburg textile firm feared that visitors to the 
factory might induce the people employed there to leave. Appren- 
tices were engaged to work at the public gun factory in Fredericks- 
burg, and the local gentry, including ladies, even lent a hand in 
making bullets. 7 Moreover, children and blacks, thought to be more 
dependable sources of labor than older male apprentices, many of 
whom entered the armed forces either from patriotic motives or 
from a desire to obtain the bounties offered for long-term enlist- 
ments, were frequently trained to be skilled artisans. 8 While Con- 
gress asked the workers, among them apprentices, not to desert their 
present essential occupation for the military service, the Continental 
Congress and some of the states did not oppose the enlistment of 
apprentices, provided the masters gave their consent or received 
compensation. 9 

The demand for workers was so great that anyone could find 
employment regardless of experience or nationality. A Philadelphia 
advertisement in 1778, written in French, English, and German, 
offered employment to all except deserters from the American 

80 



Army or the French Navy. Applicants were promised good wages, 
lodgings, fuel, candles, washing, and enough clothing to "repel the 
Rigours of Winter." Victuals were to consist of a "crust of good 
bread" or a biscuit and a glass of the "best" rum before work; fruit, 
potatoes and broiled meat for breakfast; soup and boiled meat for 
dinner; soup and roasted meat for supper, with beer and cider from 
time to time. 10 

The use of enemy deserters and prisoners helped to ease the labor 
shortage in some areas. Many Hessians were employed in Penn- 
sylvania during the summer of 1777 at the official rate of one shilling 
a day, considerably less than the wages commanded by free labor. 
The Germans worked in the fields, at the forge and loom, and at 
other essential tasks. Hessian prisoners among the Convention 
troops stationed in Virginia were sought as artisans, but their 
officers discouraged their "deserting" to accept employment by 
threatening to withhold their clothing, wages, and money due 
them for special services. In spite of the greater availability of 
Hessians, some employers preferred to hire British prisoners because 
of their knowledge of the English language and their superior in- 
dustrial skill. 11 

The hiring out of prisoners, however, was not without its critics 
and its dangers. The army, for instance, complained that lack of 
vigilance enabled hired prisoners to escape after the soldiers had 
risked their lives in capturing them. Prisoners were also suspected 
of conveying "prejudiced Stories in favour of their Country" to the 
"ignornant" people with whom they mixed. 12 

The southern states felt compelled to draft slave labor for defense 
and other public work. Compensation went to the owners, who 
received for each black drafted ten shillings a day in South Carolina 
and three shillings in Georgia. Virginia masters were quite reluctant 
to hire out their slaves, and when they did it was at such exorbitant 
rates that the Virginia Board of War eventually proposed that the 
state purchase blacks at auctions of loyalist property. The Virginia 
Committee of Safety sent some of the hapless slaves involved in an 
aborted wartime insurrection to work in the lead mines in Fincastle 
County. 13 

The capture of slaves by the British and desertions among bond- 
servants created a dearth of domestic help, particularly in combat 
areas. During the Yorktown campaign many wealthy Virginians, 
accustomed to the labor of numerous servants, experienced a rude 
change in their normally comfortable existence. In one household 
the master lost all his serving men. In another a child was deserted 
by its nurse. A helpless mistress left without a cook was "obliged 
to have recourse to her neighbours to dress her dinner for her." 

81 



Farther north servants were equally scarce. "Maids have become 
Mistresses," complained an outraged Philadelphia matron after her 
new servant had entertained a visitor all day and . . . invited him to 
lodge with her, without asking leave." The presence of many lonely 
soldiers in Philadelphia during the British occupation enabled young 
women of indifferent scruples to pay off their indentures in sur- 
prisingly short time. 14 

Various expedients were sought to mitigate the labor problems. 
The revolutionary governments often granted exemptions from 
military duty to many workers in essential production and services. 
These exemptions might be limited to such time as was required to 
complete a certain task, such as providing wood for the shivering 
forces in Massachusetts or grinding flour urgently needed for the 
famished army at Valley Forge. Or a producer of scarce commodities, 
like salt and military equipment, might obtain exemption for a 
specified number of workmen. In general, iron workers, blacksmiths, 
armorers, saddlers, teamsters, wood-cutters, charcoal burners, 
carpenters, wheelwrights, leather workers, and those engaged in 
manufacturing clothing were exempt from service for as long as they 
continued in these categories of work. 15 Keepers of beacons did not 
have to serve in New Jersey. When the firemen of New York pro- 
tested to the Provincial Congress that they could not "tend" to the 
"fire-engines" and serve as minute men at the same time, they were 
relieved of the latter service. 16 

Still, the need for workers became more pressing as the war con- 
tinued. As early as 1776 the supply of shoemakers was insufficent, 
but that of iron workers, being supplemented by new additions from 
less remunerative occupations, was at the moment adequate. By 
1779, though, the labor scarcity had become general and contractors 
were sharing with army recruiters the frustrations resulting from 
insufficient manpower. Employers were also complaining that workers 
were not as dependable and industrious as they once were. A New 
England minister wrote that for want of labor his apples were rotting 
and wasting, and flaxseed lay unwinnowed on the barn floor. 17 

Labor costs escalated as the war persisted. Wages were higher 
in the vicinity of the armies than in the more peaceful areas. One 
congressman thought labor costs were as much as "150 percent" 
greater in New York and Philadelphia than in North Carolina. In- 
deed, he suggested, the labor of blacks could not be bought at any 
price, while most good craftsmen were either in the army or were 
working for Congress at excessively high wages. 18 

The labor laws that prevailed in the colonies were generally 
modeled after those in England. The English statute of 1562-63, 
which fixed the term of apprenticeship at seven years, was adopted 

82 



in the colonies with slight modifications. As in England, idleness 
was discouraged by laws providing for penalties for vagrants and 
idlers; and poor children were required to be taught a trade and 
forced to work. 19 In accordance with the mercantilist convictions of 
the seventeenth century, the young colonial governments, par- 
ticularly those of New England, attempted to regulate wages and 
prices. By the next century, however, such legislation was on the 
decline, but did not entirely disappear. Regulation of public or quasi- 
public services continued to the Revolution, and so did the corvee. 20 

The Continental Congress, whose policy of currency inflation was 
the major factor in price appreciation, encouraged regulation on the 
part of the states. In late 1776, committees from the New England 
states convened at Providence to prepare schedules for prices and 
wages. These, with some variations, were adopted by the four gov- 
ernments. Following a spirited debate in Congress on the Providence 
recommendations, that body advised the other states to consider 
taking similar measures and to call regional meetings for that pur- 
pose. Only the York Convention, representing the Mid-Atlantic 
states, materialized, and its results were negative. Undaunted by 
this lack of success, the New England states and New York met in 
Springfield in 1777 to deal with the twin problems of currency 
depreciation and price controls. Again, nothing effectual was accom- 
plished. Convinced that if such regulation was to be successful it 
had to be general, Congress called for three regional conventions to 
meet at Charleston, South Carolina, Fredericksburg, and New 
Haven. Only the last meeting took place and its recommendations 
were meagerly implemented and short-lived. Regulation was next 
attempted on the local and intra-state level, but again the results 
were disappointing. Still, the spokesmen for regulation persevered. 
On October 20, 1779, commissioners from the New England states 
met at Hartford to take into consideration the rapid depreciation 
of the currency and the rise in the cost of living. Whistling the same 
old tune, they attributed the previous failures of regulation to its 
"partial extent" and proposed that all the states as far southward 
as Virginia meet in convention at Philadelphia in 1780. Although 
this meeting took place its results followed the earlier pattern. Ob- 
viously, the self -proclaimed so*- eign states were not yet ready for 
common action on economic matters; laissez faire was fast gaining 
the upper hand. 21 

Although the attempts at regulation dealt with both wages and 
prices, the former lagged behind the rapidly increasing costs of 
commodities. In 1778, for instance, the New Haven Convention fixed 
wages at 75 per cent above what they had been in 1774. The same 
rate of increase was allowed for all unspecified articles of Ameri- 

83 



can manufacture and production except salt, fuel, meat, poultry, 
vegetables, fibers, and sundry imported commodities. These loop- 
holes, of course, depressed real wages. 22 

Wages also reflected the depreciation of the continental currency, 
which circulated at approximately two to one of specie early in 
1777, four to one in January 1778, eight to one in January 1779, 
around forty -five to one in January 1780, and one hundred to one in 
January 1781. Therefore, if a laborer's wage in terms of continental 
currency doubled between 1778 and 1779, the increase was only 
nominal. Frequently, however, wage adjustments provided for fringe 
payments in scarce commodities, such as sugar, rum and salt, or, 
in some key occupations, in specie. To simplify and adjust trans- 
actions, farmers and tradesmen in rural areas found it convenient 
to exchange services and goods at pre-war rates, usually those pre- 
vailing in 1774. Workers also increased their total earnings by en- 
gaging in more than one occupation. 23 

Various factors influenced the wage scale. Carpenters under army 
contract in the New York Department in 1775-1776, received wages 
ranging from 10 shillings a day for foremen to 4 shillings for appren- 
tices. Laborers received 6 shillings a day regardless of race or sex. 
The work day was from sunrise to sunset, with one hour off for 
breakfast and one and a half hours for dinner. Rations consisted of 
slightly more than a pound of m^at and flour, as well as one-half 
pint of rum per day; in addition, workers received four pints of peas 
and one pint of molasses per week and an allowance of one day's 
wage for every twenty miles of travel from home. "Finding oneself" — 
that is, providing one's own tools— was an important consideration 
in determining wages. A Rhode Island act of 1777 allowed ship car- 
penters 7 shillings a day if they found themselves, and 5 shillings if 
they did not. Wages of blacksmiths differed as much as 25 per cent 
depending on whether or not they supplied their iron and tools. 24 

Wages also variet according to season and place. Farm labor was 
almost twice as lucrative in summer as in winter. Some regulatory 
committees sanctioned disparities; for instance, Rhode Island com- 
mittees limited the charge of Providence tailors to £17 for making 
a suit, Greenwich tailors to £16, and those in other parts of the state 
to£15. 25 

As might be expected, legal wages were not always enforced. A 
Philadelphia employer complained in the summer of 1777 that his 
spinners and weavers were receiving double their former wages, 
although an act passed during the subsequent winter limited all 
wages to 50 per cent more than what they were in 1774. 26 

The southern states held themselves aloof from these spasmodic 
efforts to regulate commodities and services. Not that costs were 

84 



static below the Mason-Dixon Line. In Maryland wages nominally 
increased 2500 per cent between August 1777 and the end of 1780. 
Laborers in Virginia received from 2 to 5 shillings a day in 1775, 90 
shillings a day in 1779, and up to £18 in 1780. The reappearance of 
gold and silver for settling wages reduced them to from 3 to 6 shil- 
lings a day. The hire of blacks also advanced enormously during the 
crisis, as did the nominal pay of state employees. 27 

Few Americans could look at regulation objectively. It was either 
an insidious evil or a wonder-working panacea, depending, generally, 
on how controls affected the individual purse. Less enthusiastic 
supporters of economic intervention likened the policy "to an out- 
ward application in a fever. . . [of] a temporary expedient that 
[might] give some check to the disorder, till the more slowly- 
operating internal applications can have their proper effect." 28 

Labor was quick to justify its demands and to oppose any at- 
tempts to limit its wages, although the artisans were not of one 
mind. When angry Philadelphians attempted to reduce prices of 
articles manufactured by tanners, curriers, and cordwainers in the 
summer of 1779, James Roney, chairman of a group of these trades- 
men, contended that the proposed regulation would place their 
earnings far behind the cost of other commodities. Since prices for 
their goods were fixed according to those current at the time of 
delivery and not at the time of payment, these tradesmen often 
suffered heavy losses because of the rapidly declining value of the 
currency. Could they stay in business and pay their journeymen a 
living wage, he asked, when their commodities were more severely 
limited than those of other tradesmen. Not "until a general regula- 
tion of all other articles [should] take place, by common consent," 
the protesting craftsmen warned, would they consider themselves 
bound by the new price ceilings. But leather workers of Philadelphia 
accused Roney 's faction of seeking to obstruct and defeat the good 
intentions of the regulating committee, and still another group of 
cordwainers publicly declared that they would sell their shoes and 
other articles for what they had previously charged if the price of 
their raw materials and household commodities remained stable. 29 

Skilled craftsmen resisted controls in Boston, too. The public 
denunciation of Sarson Belcher, a hat maker, for having sold above 
the ceiling price brought a united protest from all the hatters. When 
the authorities remained firm before this concerted opposition and 
threatened to punish all the hatters as violators of price regulations, 
the tradesmen held their ground and were accordingly denounced 
along with Belcher, whom they defended as helping to ease the 
hat shortage. 30 

Even among the well-disciplined Moravians there was some op- 

85 



position to wage ceilings. In April, 1778, a Salem Conference 
adjusted wages at 4 shillings a day for the single brethren. The 
Conference acknowledged that no one could "become rich or have 
an easy time" on this income, but added that neither wealth nor ease 
was the object of "living together in a congregation." On the day 
following the announcement, twelve of the brethren left their work 
with "the godless intention" of forcing "a larger increase in their 
wages, and to make the officials dance to their piping." The Mora- 
vian leaders saw the walkout "with sorrow, but believed that the 
congregation would support those in authority," as indeed it did. 
To everyone's relief, the young men soon returned to work, "very 
much ashamed of their outbreak," for which they were earnestly 
censured and suspended from certain church services. 31 

All workers were not employed by private enterprise. Some arti- 
ficers toiled for the continental and state armed forces, or for their 
manufacturing establishment; but as a rule, these workers did not 
fare as well as employees in private enterprise. The latter were better 
paid and not subject to military law. It was precisely to obtain a 
cheap and dependable labor supply that companies of artisans were 
recruited and organized in their own little hierarchies. Inducements 
for joining such companies or for working on state or continental 
projects varied during the Revolution. In 1778, Pennsylvania offered 
to teamsters enlisting for three years a bounty of twenty dollars, a 
suit of clothes per year, £6 Pennsylvania currency per month, one 
ration a day, and a great coat and a pair of boots. The following year 
the Massachusetts Board of Works advertised for a number of car- 
penters, wheelwrights, blacksmiths, armorers, sadlers, harness or 
shoemakers, gun stockers, tanners, and nail makers, who were 
promised for three years of service, a bounty of two hundred dollars, 
a monthly wage of sixty dollars, a suit of clothes per year, one and a 
half rations a day, and "every encouragement" allowed the troops. 
Toward the end of the war New York was offering wages payable in 
specie and a month's pay in advance. 32 

These seemingly substantial incentives for long term enlistment 
in non-combatant units of the armed forces had two serious dis- 
advantages—the pay was fixed at the time of enlistment, and both 
the "National government" and the states were exceedingly poor 
paymasters. As a result, artisans in government service had to 
petition time and again for wage adjustments and back earnings. 
On the eve of peace a group of artillery workers complained that 
for two years they had received only their nominal pay, a pittance 
indeed in the light of current prices. Three years after the war army 
breadmakers were still asking compensation for work performed 
during the war. The petitions of the munition makers told the same 

86 



story. Some of their group informed Congress in 1782 that they had 
received nothing for nine months; their families were starving and 
they were daily being threatened with eviction for nonpayment for 
rent and taxes. 33 

Virginia's credit standing was so poor that many artisans refused 
to work for that state, thus forcing the authorities to resort to wage 
bargaining. The employees at the state gun factory in Fredericks- 
burg were ready for a general walkout in 1781 because their wages 
were paid in paper at the rate of five hundred to one of specie, while 
their expenses for food and other necessities had to be met at the 
unfavorable rate of six hundred, eight hundred, and even a thousand 
to one. 34 

Privateering, a lucative business, caused the labor shortage in 
the maritime areas to be still more acute. No public ship could be 
manned, no continental battallion could be filled, no farm laborer 
could be hired, as long as a privateer was in search of a crew. For- 
tunately, if the need for manpower became sufficiently urgent the 
authorities could refuse clearance to the privateers. 35 

The government's tardiness in making payments may have had 
something to do with the poor quality and the high cost of many 
commodities, especially shoes and clothing, made for or sold to the 
government. Some shoes were found to be so bad that they could 
not stand one day's wear. The "Great Fraud" and "Deceit" per- 
petrated by some New Hampshire contractors for army shoes ac- 
counted for a law providing that all shoes sold to the army bear the 
mark of the maker on the soles; if the shoes failed to pass inspection 
they were to be sold at auction and the manufacturer fined four 
shillings per shoe. 36 

In the three-sided relationship between employer, employee, and 
public the first and last of these groups were much more articulate 
than the second, whose statements were generally confined to 
petitions for higher wages or back pay. The public generally 
concluded that labor did not take undue advantage of its favorable 
bargaining position during the Revolution. Public rancor was 
directed far more against the speculators, "greedy merchants," and 
irresponsible army purchasing agents than against labor. 37 On the 
other hand, employers complained not only of the wages they had 
to pay, but also of the quality of work they received, and quarter- 
masters harped on the rapaciousness and unreliability of teamsters 
and other workers with whom they came into contact. 

Undoubtedly, labor took advantage of the manpower shortage. 
Still, the increased employment of women and children and the use 
of prisoners of war and slaves to perform private and public work 
did not give labor a clear field. Toward the end of the Revolution 

87 



some workers viewed with alarm the return of peace and normal 
economic conditions, but in such cases they were probably forgetting 
that if wages were higher than they had been at the start of the 
Revolution, the same was true of prices. 



FOOTNOTES 

1 Independent Chronicle and Universal Advertiser (Boston) June 26, 1777. 

2 For Labor conditions on the eve and during the Revolution see Carl 
Bridenbaugh, ed., "Patrick M'Robert's Tour Through Part of the North 
Provinces of America," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 
LIX (1935), 135-180; Richard B. Morris, Government and Labor in Early 
America (New York, 1946); Anne Bezanson, Prices and Inflation During the 
American Revolution, Pennsylvania, 1770-1790 (Philadelphia, 1952). 

3 Peter Force, Comp., American Archives (8 Vols., Washington, 1837-1858), 
4th ser., I, 1256-1258, II, 140-144, III, 820-821; Woolsey and Salmon to 
George Salmon, Dec. 8, 1775, Woolsey and Salmon Letterbook, Library of 
Congress; Bezanson, Prices, 17. 

4 Force, Comp., Archives, 4th ser., I, 1001-1002, 1169-1172, 1226-1227, II, 
13-14, 170-172, 865; North Carolina Gazette (New Bern) Apr. 7, Feb. 24, 
1775; John L. Bishop, A History of American Manufacture from 1608 to 
1860 (2 Vols., Philadelphia, 1864) I, 579; Pennsylvania Packet (Philadel- 
phia), May 13, 1776. 

5 Force, comp., Archives, 4th ser., I, 1339, II, 387-388, 563-564, III, 1081- 
1082, 1291, 1424-1426, IV, 71-73, 218, 517, 726, 730-732, 740, 1052-1053, 1071- 
1072, 1104-1105, 1304, 1572; Minutes of the Provincial Congress and the 
Council of Safety of the State of New Jersey (Trenton, 1879), 159-160, 230, 
440-442, 466; Broadside Collection (Library of Congress), Oct. 31, 1775, 
Port 38, no. 28a. 

6 Hezekiah Niles, Principles and Acts of the Revolution (New York, 1876), 
211-212. 

7 Force, comp., Archives, 4th ser., II, 1791, III, 1116; Pa. Packet, Sept. 24, 
1776; Dixon's Virginia Gazette, Dec. 13, 1776, Feb. 7, May 16, June 20, 
1777; Charles Dick to Jefferson, Jan. 4, 1781, Julian P. Boyd, et. ai, eds., 
The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (19 vols., 1950--), IV, 308. 

8 Morris, Government and Labor, 291-294; Journals of Continental Con- 
gress, 1774-1789 (Washington, 34 vols., 1904-1939) IV, 103, 147-148; "Ex- 
cerpts from Day-Books of David Evans. . . ," Pa. Mag. of Hist, and Biog., 
XXVII (1903), 49. 

9 State Records of North Carolina (26 vols., Goldsboro, 1886-1907) XI, 
467-468; William W. Hening, Statutes at Large (13 vols., New York, 1823), 
X, 335. 

10 "Avis au public," Philadelphia, 1778, Broadside, New York Public 
Library; Force, comp., Archives, 4th ser., II, 1342; Pa. Packet, Apr. 22, 
1776; Dixon's Va. Gaz. June 22, Jul. 29, 1776, Nov. 7, 1777. 

88 



11 Edward Burd to J. Burd, May 26, 1777, Lewis B. Walker, ed., The Burd 
Papers (Pottsville, 1899), 95; Jacob C. Parsons, ed., Extracts from the Diary 
of Jacob Hiltzheimer of Philadelphia, 1765-1798, (Philadelphia, 1893) 41; 
Richard Claiborne to Jefferson, Calendar of Virginia State Papers, and other 
Manuscripts ... (11 vols., Richmond 1875-1893), Feb. 2, 1781; I, 483; James 
Wood to Jefferson, Feb. 3, 1781, ibid., I, 486; Charles Carroll to Richard 
Peters, Oct. 22, 1777, "Two Letters of Charles Carroll," Pa. Mag. of Hist. 
andBiog., XXVIII (1904), 216. 

12 Michael Hillegas to Matthias Slough, May 9, 1780, "Selected Letters of 
Michael Hillegas, Treasurer of the United States," Pa. Mag. of Hist, and 
Biog., XXIX (1905), 239; Jefferson to and from Joseph Holmes, Mar. 7, 
1871, Boyd, eds., Jefferson Papers, V, 84-85. 

13 J. Reuben Clark, Jr., comp., Emergency Legislation, Passed Prior to 
December, 1913 (Washington, 1918), 280-283, 879-885, 886; Thomas Newton 
to George Muter, Feb. 16, 1781, Calendar of Virginia State Papers, III, 229; 
Force, comp., Archives, 4th ser., IV, 85. 

14 St. George Tucker to Mrs. Tucker, July 11, 1781, Tucker-Coleman Papers 
(Earl Swim Library, Williamsburg); Elizabeth (Sand with) Drinker, Ex- 
tracts from the Journal of Elizabeth Drinker, 1 759- 1807 (Philadelphia, 1889) 
69-70, 109, 113, 124; John F. Watson, Annals of Philadelphia and Penn- 
sylvania, in the Olden Time (Philadelphia, 1857), I, 176. 

15 Clark, Emergency Legislation, 981, 983; Bishop, Manufactures, 391-393; 
Force, comp., Archives, 4th ser., IV, 1222; Minutes of Provincial Congress 
and Council of Safety of N.J., 543; Minutes of the Council of Safety of the 
State of New Jersey (Jersey City, 1872), 186, 215; George Muter to Jeffer- 
son, Feb. 13, 1781, Boyd, eds., Jefferson Papers, IV, 601; Jefferson to 
William Call, Apr. 13, 1781, ibid., V, 413; Petitions, Apr. 12, July 24, 1777, 
Papers of Continental Congress, No. 42, I, 41, 45; Pa. Packet (L), May 6, 
1778; Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser (Philadelphia), June 25, 
1777; Connecticut Courant (Hartford), Feb. 17, Apr. 14, 1778. 

16 Council of Safety of N.J. , 185; Force, comp., Archives, 4th ser., Ill, 580, 
669; Charles Dick to Jefferson, Apr. 5, 1781, Boyd, eds., Jefferson Papers, 
V, 355. 

17 Bezanson, Prices and Inflation, 168; Harrietta M. Forbes, ed., The Diary 
of Rev. Ebenezer Parkman of Westborough, Mass. (Westborough, 1899), 
274 

18 Cornelius Harnett to William Wilkinson, Oct. 10, 23, 1777, State Records 
of N.C, XI, 780-781, 785-786. Iron workers were also scarce in North Caro- 
lina. Samuel Spencer to Governor Caswell, Aug. 15, 1777, ibid., 575-578. 

19 Morris, Government and Labor, 1-54. 

20 Ibid., 55-91. 

21 Ibid., 92-135; Elizabeth Cometti, "Regulation of Prices," unpublished 
manuscript. 

22 Records of Connecticut, I, 607-620; Bezanson, Prices and Inflation, 
311-317. 

23 Bezanson, Prices and Inflation, 36, 47, 168, 314; Morris, Government and 
Labor, 211. 

89 



24 Schuyler Papers, Army Contracts, New York Public Library. Clark, 
Emergency Legislation, 835-850; Pa. Packet, Aug. 31, 1779. 

25 Clark, Emergency Legislation, 420-421, 429; Providence Gazette, Oct. 2, 
1779. 

26 Bezanson, Prices and Inflation, 293; Pa. Packet, Dec. 31, 1777; Clark, 
Emergency Legislation, 729-731. 

27 Elizabeth Cometti, "Inflation in Revolutionary Maryland," William and 
Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., VIII (1951), 228-234; Hooe and Harrison Journal, 
1779-1782, New York Public Library. 

28 N.J. Gazette, Mar. 11, 1778. 

29 Pa. Packet, July 15, 20, 1779; Bezanson, Prices and Inflation, 314. 

30 Boston Town Records, 1778-1783, 87, 97; Richard B. Morris, "Labor and 
Mercantilism in the Revolutionary Era," Richard B. Morris, ed., The Era 
of the American Revolution, (New York, 1939), 129-130. 

31 Adelaide L. Fries, ed., Records of the Moravians (4 vols., Raleigh, 1926, 
1930), III, 1225-1227, 1259. 

32 Pa. Packet, Jan. 28, May 6, 1778; The Continental Journal and Weekly 
Advertiser, (Boston) Sept. 2, 1779; New York Packet, Supplement Apr. 25, 
1782; "Proceedings of the Provincial Congress . . . Relating to Military 
Matters," Berthold Fernow, ed., New York in the Revolution (Albany, 1887), 
1,61. 

33 Memorials and Petitions, Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 41, 

I, 25; No. 42, I, 19; No. 42, II, 64; No. 42, III, 15; No. 42, IV, 44; No. 41, 
IV, 55. 

34 John Peyton to Col. William Davies, Aug. 10, 1781, Calendar of Virginia 
State Papers, II, 309; Charles Dick to Col. Davies, Sept. 10, 15, 1781, ibid., 

II, 411, 439-440. 

35 Richard F. Upton, Revolutionary New Hampshire (Hanover, 1936), 
110-113; Providence Gaz., July 1, 1780. 

36 George Elliott to Col. Muter, Jan. 31, 1781; William Armstead to Col. 
Davies, Jan. 3, 1781; Col. Davies to Jefferson, Feb. 1, 1781, Calendar of 
Virginia State Papers, I, 476, 414, 481; Acts and Laws of New Hampshire. 
Apr. 7, 1781, 237-238. 

37 Morris, "Labor and Mercantilism," Morris, eds., Era of the American 
Revolution. 132-133. 



90 



"THERE OUGHT TO BE NO DISTINCTION:" 

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION 

AND THE POWERLESS 

By 

Jerome H. Wood, Jr. 

The attack on the consensus interpretation of the American past, 
launched by the so-called "New Left" historians in the 1960's, was 
made largely in an effort to rescue from oblivion the actions and 
ideas of the ordinary people in our history. Insofar as the American 
Revolution is concerned, the new goal was to view that great event 
"from the bottom up," to chronicle the effects on non-elite groups of 
successive British measures after 1763, to comprehend the radicals' 
response to these measures, to discern the concerns and expectations 
that lay behind popular behavior in the midst of the crisis, and, 
ultimately, to understand the character of the Revolutionary process 
and settlement by evaluating them from the perspective of the 
expectations of ordinary people. 1 The scholars who invited their 
colleagues to study the winning of independence from this new point 
of view were prompted by a humanitarian faith, by an assumption 
"that all men are created equal, and rational, and that since they can 
think and reason they can make their own history." 2 

Of course, there was nothing new about a concern with ordinary 
folk in relation to the birth of the nation. An earlier generation of 
"Progressive" historians, stressing the dual character of the Revo- 
lution as a struggle to gain home rule and to determine who should 
rule at home, emphasized the unfranchised, subjected to the rule of 
a wealthy elite interested primarily in its own well being, denied 
economic opportunity by "the constricting hand of monopoly," 
barred from becoming free simple yeomen farmers by the laws of 
primogeniture and entail as well as the engrossing appetities of 
landlords and speculators, and prevented from making a new start 
in the West by the Proclamation of 1763, the "dispossessed" of the 
colonies fought to establish a democratic order. 3 There was, in this 
older interpretation, an assumption that those on the bottom of 
American society had been important actors in the movement for 
independence. The "proletarian element," as one adherent to this 
approach expressed it, "was not inclined by temperament to that self 
restraint in moments of popular protest which was ever the arriere 
pensee of the merchant class; and being for the most part unfran- 
chised, they expressed their sentiments most naturally through 
boisterous mass meetings and mob demonstrations." 4 Success was 



91 



said to have attended their efforts. The extension of the suffrage, 
the elimination of impediments to partial inheritance, and the dis- 
tribution of land made possible by the confiscation of Loyalist 
estates, the attacks on, and partial success in the elimination of, 
slavery— all were achievements gained for the common man in a 
levelling democracy. 5 

It was not, then, their concern for ordinary people in the American 
Revolution that marked the originality of the radical historians but 
rather the intensity of their focus and elaboration. Rather than 
present the views and actions of common people through the prism 
of their "superiors" perceptions, historians should let them speak 
for themselves. "Having determined the place of those who were 
ruled in the ideology of those who ruled, [the new approach would] 
study the conduct and ideology of the people on the bottom: this is 
nothing less than an attempt to make the inarticulate speak." 6 
Bristling at the claim that the revolutionaries fought to preserve a 
social order rather than to create a new one— the principal argument 
of the consensus school that had dominated the historiography of 
early America since the 1950s— the dissenting historians demanded 
a study of "the powerless, the inarticulate, the poor." Strongly im- 
plicit in this perspective was an assumption that, having undertaken 
the search, historians would be rewarded by the discovery of com- 
peting revolutionary ideologies, ~>mething other than the "Real 
Whig" brand of republicanism recently stressed as the intellectual 
context and dynamic of the Revolution; perhaps they would even 
find evidence of rebellion against the Revolutions elite leaders. 7 

A review of the literature on the Revolutionary era published in 
the last decade suggests that few historians have accepted the 
challenge. 8 For the most part, the attitudes and actions of the 
"inarticulate" must be ferreted out from discussions of political, 
social, and economic matters not directly focused on them. Indeed, at 
least one distinguishec authority has dared even to reassert a con- 
sensus view. "In sum," he maintains, "the evidence of Revolutionary 
class conflict is scanty, and for good reason. With a majority of 
laborers in chains and with the most discontented freemen venting 
their discontent in loyalism, the struggle over who should rule at 
home was unlikely to bear many of the marks of class conflict. Class 
conflict was indubitably present, but it did not surface with an 
effective intensity until a later day, after the Revolution had built 
a consensus that could both nourish and contain it, and after social, 
political, and economic change had produced greater provocations 
to it." 9 

Even the studies devoted specifically to the "inarticulate" of the 
Revolutionary era have not led uniformly to the conclusions that 

92 



might have been expected in light of the dissenting historians' 
suggestions. In an article on "Philadelphia's White Oaks," a fra- 
ternity of eighteenth century ship carpenters, James H. Hutson 
paints the picture of a group of workingmen who, far from being 
alienated from their society and its values, were "ambitious and 
achievement oriented; they were affirmative about their society; 
they wanted to make their way up in it and share in the bounty 
which it bestowed." Inclined to lend their support to men of their 
own background who had "made it," they joined with Benjamin 
Franklin in the movement to bring royal government to Pennsylvania 
and came to the rescue of John Hughes, the Pennsylvania stamp 
distributor and a former baker, when he was threatened with 
physical abuse. The White Oaks joined with their fellow mechanics 
in support of the nonimportation movement for reasons both prin- 
cipled and pecuniary; the embargo on British goods could serve as 
a means of applying political pressure on Parliament, but it was as 
well "a blessing for their little businesses, a wonderful opportunity 
for them to get ahead." 10 

What is to be concluded? Were the historians who pointed the 
way to a new dimension of the Revolution only conductors to a dead 
end? Is their faith in the presence of a revolutionary ideology among 
the denied sectors of the population chimerical? To assume the im- 
possibility of an open road is, however, to act prematurely. There 
is still an opportunity and a necessity to ask questions which will 
yield useful results. What is needed first,' however, are clearer defi- 
nitions and an appreciation of the nature and effects of social change 
and political development in pre-Revolutionary America. 

The directive to tell the story of the Revolution "from the bottom 
up" was, unfortunately, accompanied by no clear definition of just 
who constituted the suggested object of study. In what is widely 
regarded as a clarion call for the new approach, Jesse Lemisch im- 
plicitly grouped together into a single category employees, sailors, 
"the powerless," and "those who were ruled." 11 But surely such 
classifications and comparisons are too broad and too vague to be 
useful; moreover, excepting perhaps the case of the sailors, they are 
not strictly synonymous with horizontal layers of colonial society. 
For example, should farmers and urban dwellers of middling status 
who possessed enough property to qualify to vote in provincial or 
local elections, be regarded as among the powerful? Were such people 
in a position to make determinative decisions about the distribution 
and use of society's resources? If judged to be "powerless," should 
they — in light of their status as property owners and voters— be put 
into the same conceptual category as sailors or slaves? Moreover, 
if we were to take as one and the same "those who were ruled" and 

93 



those on the bottom, we would be in the position of having to study 
the vast majority of early Americans, most of whom had a social 
and economic status that was sufficiently high to make comparison 
with the equally non-ruling recipients of poor relief and slaves in- 
appropriate. It seems more useful to do what Lemisch does, in fact, 
at other places in his writings; that is, to direct attention to more 
specific, circumscribed groups who were clearly among the un- 
privileged part of the population, such as Negroes (slave and free), 
unfranchised whites, seamen or the destitute. 

If there was a certain vagueness as to just who constituted the 
bottom of early American society, historians clearly misstated these 
people s capacity to express their grievances, in the notion that they 
were somehow "inarticulate." No one who has read the petitions for 
relief directed at colonial and early national legislatures by slaves, 
voteless or unrepresented whites, and the poor could believe that 
the petitioners were mute, dumb, or incapable of "the normal articu- 
lation of understandable speech." Here is a petition of May, 1774, 
directed to Governor Thomas Gage of Massachusetts by "a Grate 
Number of Blackes of the Province. . . held in a state of Slavery 
within a free and Christian Country:" 12 

Your Petitioners apprehind we have in common with all 
other men a natural right to our freedoms without Being 
depriv'd of them by our fellow men as we are a freeborn 
Pepel and have never forfeited this Blessing by aney com- 
pact or agreement whatever. But we were unjustly dragged 
by the cruel hand of power from our dearest frinds and 
some of us stolen from the bosoms of our tender Parents 
and from a Populous Pleasant and plentiful country and 
Brought hither to be made slaves for Life in a Christian 
land. . . . There is a great number of us sencear . . . mem- 
bers of the Church of Christ how can the master and the 
slave be said to fulfil that command Live in love let Broth- 
erly love contuner and abound Beare yea onenothers Bor- 
denes. How can the master be said to Beare my Borden 
when he Beares me down which the . . . chanes of slavery. 

How eloquently these supplicants urged the abolition of slavery! 
It was not their inarticulateness that defined those on the bottom of 
American society. It was their lack of freedom, their poverty, their 
character as victims of discriminatory economic and social legisla- 
tion, and, perhaps most importantly, their lack of means to par- 
ticipate effectively in normal electoral and political processes, which 
forced them on occasion to the only political arena open to them — 
the street. 

94 



The attempt to define just who was on the bottom of early Amer- 
ican society forces us to look at the changing nature of that society. 
To approach the problem in terms of social change can provide a 
picture not only of the nature of the unprivileged groups but also a 
suggestion as to their number and proportion within the population 
and a context in which to view their responses to the events of the 
Revolutionary era. Recent research on the changing social structure 
of early America permits us to appreciate the reality of, and to under- 
stand the nature of, a dispossessed class among the colonists. In 
major urban centers, in minor ones, and in the rural sections of the 
provinces, the picture is slowly emerging of growing economic and 
social stratification, as measured by the distribution of wealth and 
property and the appearance, for the first time in some places, of 
designations calculated to set those at the apex of their societies 
apart from the rest. In Boston, Massachusetts, for example, between 
1687 and 1771 there has been noted "a growing inequality of the 
distribution of wealth among the propertied segments of the com- 
munity," and "exclusiveness and predominance of a mercantile elite." 
Moreover, in the former year 14 per cent of the adult male population 
were neither owners of taxable property nor dependents in a house- 
hold assessed for the property tax. By the eve of the Revolution, 29 
per cent of Boston's adult males were without property. Forming 
no monolithic proletarian class, however, the propertyless bottom 
of Boston society consisted of "a congeries of social and occupational 
groups with a highly transient maritime element at one end of the 
spectrum and a more stable and respected artisan segment at the 
other." 13 Elsewhere in Massachusetts a notable rise in transiency 
mobility appeared in the form of a class of "strolling poor" requiring 
economic assistance. These wandering dependents came from the 
bottom of the social scale and forced the colony (later the state) to 
develop new solutions to social welfare and control. 14 

The middle colonies too, provide significant evidence of increasing 
stratification as the region developed. In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 
a minor urban center and the largest inland town in the British 
mainland colonies, there was growing disparity in the distribution 
of wealth. In 1751, the poorest 30 per cent of the heads of families 
possessed 13 per cent of the community's assessed taxable wealth, 
while the wealthiest 10 per cent of the heads of families controlled 
33 per cent. With the passage of time, the gap between rich and poor 
widened. In 1778, the poorest 30 per cent of the heads of families in 
the borough accounted for only 2.5 per cent of the assessed taxable 
wealth, but the most affluent 10 per cent accrued nearly one-half. 
There was a significant number of propertyless men in town as well, 
with the tenancy rate fluctuating between 26 and 35 per cent of the 

95 



heads of families between 1756 and 1788. 15 A study of the distri- 
bution of wealth in nearby Chester County over the course of the 
eighteenth century concludes that "the comparatively open society, 
operating in a stable, pre-industrial economic environment, encum- 
bered with few governmental restraints, and subscribing to a liberal 
ideology . . . led to increasing social stratification. . . ." 16 

For all of its importance, increasing concentration of wealth was 
merely one of a number of social changes that American society 
underwent in the years prior to the Revolution. Colonial America 
was transformed into a society characterized by increasing popu- 
lation growth and density (which brought with it the exhaustion 
of undivided, cultivable lands in many places), increasing migration 
(including itinerant labor), and increasing commercialization (which 
brought with it a geographic concentration of wealth). 17 Among 
the effects of these dangers, which some scholars describe as the 
"Europeanization" of early American society, was the introduction 
of an element of human instability into the American social order, 
the appearance of a "lumpen-proletariat" of propertyless men — 
mostly seamen, laborers, or journeymen artisans — who bargained 
their services for wages. Unrestrained, for the most part, by the 
bounds of family government, this peripatetic part of the population, 
drifting, often unemployed, despised, was responsible for much of 
the violence in the eighteenth century urban centers. 18 

Clearly, then, there were many colonists who did not enjoy that 
"pleasing uniformity of decent competence" which Hector St. Jean 
de Crevecoeur ascribed to the American. How did these dependent 
classes of the colonies respond to their situation? Did their debased 
position in society find expression through political activity? To be 
sure, historians of early American society have only begun to explore 
the relation between social structure and political behavior, but there 
exists suggestive evidence, and at least one study, that are relevant 
to this question. It should be kept in mind that the kind of people 
under scrutiny here— the unemployed, men without property, the 
voteless, and the unfree — were denied access to the normal channels 
of political expression. Consequently, they were forced to make their 
plight known through collective and disruptive action, especially 
riot and rebellion. During the 1760's in New York, for example, 
tenants who purchased Indian tracts which their landlords had 
acquired fraudulently, combined in an anti-rent movement that 
pitted them against sheriffs attempting to carry out eviction orders; 
the struggle brought them into confrontation with a judicial system 
biased in favor of the landed magnates. 19 In the seaport towns, un- 
employed dock and shipyard workers caused disturbances, and 
seamen— angered and frightened by the press gangs of the British 

96 



Navy— joined with merchants and others in violent acts of resistance 
in the name of freedom and as an encouragement to trade. The 
workers of colonial America who were outside of the class system 
because they were unfree — slaves and indentured servants — acted 
collectively within their group and sometimes jointly in rebelling 
simply to achieve their liberation or in retaliation for harsh usage. 20 

Although mob action and rebellion constituted the most readily 
available and the characteristic outlet for the expression of grievances 
by the depressed members of colonial society, the evolving political 
processes in the urban centers offered another channel that came to 
be used increasingly. In the half-century prior to the Revolutionary 
crisis, a radical mode of politics emerged in such places as Boston, 
New York, and Philadelphia, the result of a transformation which 
involved "activation of previously quiescent lower class elements." 
These activities included the organization of political clubs, caucuses 
and tickets, the involvement of the clergy and the churches in 
politics, and the organization of mobs and violence for political ends. 
Ironically, this introduction of new, lower-status groups into public 
life was encouraged by strong and competing elites in need of rein- 
forcement; and the results of their action were a broadened spectrum 
of individuals participating in public affairs and the encouragement 
of a non -deferential political culture— anti -authoritarian, sometimes 
violent, and often destructive of elite vajues. 21 Insofar as lower class 
participation in the mob activity that was a part of the new urban 
politics is concerned, manipulation by elites, rather than spon- 
taneous activity in behalf of class interests, appears most often to 
have been the energizing force. 22 Nonetheless, the elites' courtship 
of low status groups represented an implicit levelling, the suggestion 
of a kind of equality, that provided, along with the social changes 
and tensions of the period, a significant context in which the un- 
privileged classes received the revolutionary ideology. 

The fateful thirteen years that followed the close of the French 
and Indian War were seasons of protest, reflection, and action not 
only for the elites who directed the revolutionary movement but for 
the powerless groups of America as well. If the merchants and 
lawyers had reasons to react strongly to British measures after 1763, 
groups of low status responded in their own ways to these policies 
and to the retaliatory programs of American leaders. Surely, the poor 
and the powerless had grievances of their own. Corrupt customs 
officials seized the smallest woodboats engaged in purely local trade; 
the chests of common seamen were rifled and their contents con- 
fiscated. The British Army was the cause of discontent for more than 
one reason: troops were frequently quartered in the houses of the 
protesting poor, and the soldiers, allowed to engage in civilian em- 

97 



ployment when not on duty, competed with Americans for work at 
less than the prevailing wage rate. Impressment of hapless Americans 
by the Royal Navy, a long-standing grievance, sometimes produced 
violent outbursts, as in the Boston Massacre and the Battle of 
Golden Hill in New York City. 23 The response of American leader- 
ship to these and other provocations sometimes met with resistance 
from those on the bottom of society. The boycott strategy used to 
force the repeal of the Stamp Act worked to the detriment of the 
destitute and the hungry as well as of prisoners whose release could 
not be secured as long as the legal process was halted. In Maryland, 
the non-importation movement which followed the enactment of 
the Coercive Acts led to economic stagnation and depression, evok- 
ing complaints from farmers and threats to "mob the merchants." 
In Charles and Baltimore counties, indeed, mobs stormed the jails 
and released men who had been imprisoned for debt. Unable to meet 
their financial obligations, debtors in Charles County forced a 
closing of the courts. 24 

In their war of propaganda and pressure against the British, 
American radicals found it convenient to enlist the support of low 
status groups. The Sons of Liberty, for example, believing in the 
necessity of involving "the Body of the People," sought to attract 
all elements of the population to their mass meetings and other 
activities. Often, men of the middling ranks who had risen to their 
positions from less respectable levels, utilized their past experiences 
and wooed their old comrades in the radical cause. 25 Once absorbed 
into the movement, however, those from below sometimes proved 
incapable of being controlled by their middle class leaders. In Jan- 
uary, 1774, a Boston crowd composed mainly of seamen seized a 
customs official long charged with "venality and corruption as well 
as . . . extortion in office." Mindful of the way in which "the law" 
had dealt with Captain Thomas Preston and his soldiers following 
the Boston Massacre, the mob ignored the insistence of their 
"leaders" that established legal practice must be followed and 
proceeded to tar and feather their victim. 26 

What becomes abundantly clear from an analysis of the behavior 
of low status groups in the revolutionary movement is that their 
resentment and discontent were directed not exclusively against the 
British but toward American leadership as well. The criticisms of 
the various boycott strategies and the affair of the Boston customs 
official reveal a determination on the part of these colonists to 
support only those retaliatory measures that were not detrimental 
to their livelihood. Their actions, moreover, reveal a distrust of 
established legal and political institutions. Gouverneur Morris for 
all his wrongheadedness, was absolutely right: "the mob" had begun 

98 



Navy —joined with merchants and others in violent acts of resistance 
in the name of freedom and as an encouragement to trade. The 
workers of colonial America who were outside of the class system 
because they were unfree — slaves and indentured servants — acted 
collectively within their group and sometimes jointly in rebelling 
simply to achieve their liberation or in retaliation for harsh usage. 20 

Although mob action and rebellion constituted the most readily 
available and the characteristic outlet for the expression of grievances 
by the depressed members of colonial society, the evolving political 
processes in the urban centers offered another channel that came to 
be used increasingly. In the half-century prior to the Revolutionary 
crisis, a radical mode of politics emerged in such places as Boston, 
New York, and Philadelphia, the result of a transformation which 
involved "activation of previously quiescent lower class elements." 
These activities included the organization of political clubs, caucuses 
and tickets, the involvement of the clergy and the churches in 
politics, and the organization of mobs and violence for political ends. 
Ironically, this introduction of new, lower-status groups into public 
life was encouraged by strong and competing elites in need of rein- 
forcement; and the results of their action were a broadened spectrum 
of individuals participating in public affairs and the encouragement 
of a non -deferential political culture— anti -authoritarian, sometimes 
violent, and often destructive of elite values. 21 Insofar as lower class 
participation in the mob activity that was a part of the new urban 
politics is concerned, manipulation by elites, rather than spon- 
taneous activity in behalf of class interests, appears most often to 
have been the energizing force. 22 Nonetheless, the elites' courtship 
of low status groups represented an implicit levelling, the suggestion 
of a kind of equality, that provided, along with the social changes 
and tensions of the period, a significant context in which the un- 
privileged classes received the revolutionary ideology. 

The fateful thirteen years that followed the close of the French 
and Indian War were seasons of protest, reflection, and action not 
only for the elites who directed the revolutionary movement but for 
the powerless groups of America as well. If the merchants and 
lawyers had reasons to react strongly to British measures after 1763, 
groups of low status responded in their own ways to these policies 
and to the retaliatory programs of American leaders. Surely, the poor 
and the powerless had grievances of their own. Corrupt customs 
officials seized the smallest woodboats engaged in purely local trade; 
the chests of common seamen were rifled and their contents con- 
fiscated. The British Army was the cause of discontent for more than 
one reason: troops were frequently quartered in the houses of the 
protesting poor, and the soldiers, allowed to engage in civilian em- 

97 



ployment when not on duty, competed with Americans for work at 
less than the prevailing wage rate. Impressment of hapless Americans 
by the Royal Navy, a long-standing grievance, sometimes produced 
violent outbursts, as in the Boston Massacre and the Battle of 
Golden Hill in New York City. 23 The response of American leader- 
ship to these and other provocations sometimes met with resistance 
from those on the bottom of society. The boycott strategy used to 
force the repeal of the Stamp Act worked to the detriment of the 
destitute and the hungry as well as of prisoners whose release could 
not be secured as long as the legal process was halted. In Maryland, 
the non-importation movement which followed the enactment of 
the Coercive Acts led to economic stagnation and depression, evok- 
ing complaints from farmers and threats to "mob the merchants." 
In Charles and Baltimore counties, indeed, mobs stormed the jails 
and released men who had been imprisoned for debt. Unable to meet 
their financial obligations, debtors in Charles County forced a 
closing of the courts. 24 

In their war of propaganda and pressure against the British, 
American radicals found it convenient to enlist the support of low 
status groups. The Sons of Liberty, for example, believing in the 
necessity of involving "the Body of the People," sought to attract 
all elements of the population to their mass meetings and other 
activities. Often, men of the middling ranks who had risen to their 
positions from less respectable levels, utilized their past experiences 
and wooed their old comrades in the radical cause. 25 Once absorbed 
into the movement, however, those from below sometimes proved 
incapable of being controlled by their middle class leaders. In Jan- 
uary, 1774, a Boston crowd composed mainly of seamen seized a 
customs official long charged with "venality and corruption as well 
as . . . extortion in office." Mindful of the way in which "the law" 
had dealt with Captain Thomas Preston and his soldiers following 
the Boston Massacre, the mob ignored the insistence of their 
"leaders" that established legal practice must be followed and 
proceeded to tar and feather their victim. 26 

What becomes abundantly clear from an analysis of the behavior 
of low status groups in the revolutionary movement is that their 
resentment and discontent were directed not exclusively against the 
British but toward American leadership as well. The criticisms of 
the various boycott strategies and the affair of the Boston customs 
official reveal a determination on the part of these colonists to 
support only those retaliatory measures that were not detrimental 
to their livelihood. Their actions, moreover, reveal a distrust of 
established legal and political institutions. Gouverneur Morris for 
all his wrongheadedness, was absolutely right: "the mob" had begun 

98 



to think and reason for itself. By no means slow to arrive at this 
perception, the elite leaders of the revolutionary movement soon 
placed a new emphasis upon internal restraint. "These tarrings and 
featherings," complained John Adams in 1774, "this breaking open 
of houses by rude and insolent Rabbles, in Resentment for private 
Wrongs or in pursuance of private Prejudices and Passions, must 
be discountenanced." In short, the people must not get ahead of their 
leaders. Or, as Governor Thomas Hutchinson unequivocally ex- 
pressed it: "The spirit of liberty spread where it was not intended." 2 " 7 

Acting on their own, or in collaboration with elite radical leader- 
ship, "the mobile" behaved in an ideological context that simul- 
taneously justified their immediate deeds and encouraged them to 
expect a change in their circumstances. Having heard their "betters" 
proclaim a desire for liberty, and having listened to and even joined 
with them in asserting their "natural rights" they used these con- 
cepts to formulate their own demands. They were aided immeasurably 
by the egalitarian implications not only of the Declaration of Inde- 
pendence but of that most widely known of revolutionary pamphlets, 
Thomas Paine's Common Sense: "Where there are no distinctions, 
there can be no superiority; perfect equality affords no temptation." 28 
Here was a goal for the poor, a theology for the slave, a platform for 
the voteless. For a few, the egalitarian notions implicit in this and 
other literature of the revolutionary era provided a credo for radical 
action, which often took the form of attacks on private property and 
on the traditional mechanisms of social control. In May, 1775, a 
deposition presented to one county court on the eastern shore of 
Maryland recorded that a wheelwright refused to attend a militia 
muster because he understood that "the gentlemen were intending 
to make us all fight for their lands and Negroes" and then said 
"damn them (meaning the gentlemen) if I had a few more white 
people to join me I could get all the Negroes in the County to back 
us and they would do more good in the night than the white people 
could do in the day. ..." He further averred that they could find 
ammunition and that "if all the gentlemen were killed we should 
have the best of the land to tend and besides could get money enough 
while they were about it as they have got all the money in their 
hands." 29 By the summer of 1776, indeed, poor whites, Negroes, and 
loyalists on the eastern shore of Maryland were rebelling against 
the revolutionary leaders, and on June 28th a reluctant provincial 
convention both voted independence and dispatched troops to the 
scene of trouble. 30 

Expectations as to what the Revolution might accomplish were 
doubtless almost as numerous as colonists. But the low status 
groups certainly perceived the Revolution as affording the oppor- 

99 



tunity to acquire land (either in already settled areas or in the West), 
to gain political rights, and — in the case of slaves and servants — to 
be free. The desire for political democracy — as represented by simple 
rather than complex governments, universal manhood suffrage, and 
the elimination of property qualifications for office holding— was 
probably the most important goal since it could be a means to 
securing the other objectives. For some, independence would hope- 
fully mean the right simply to be left alone, as a horrified Landon 
Carter bemoaned in sending along this definition of "Independency" 
to his friend George Washington: "It was expected to be a form of 
Government that, by being independent of the rich men, every man 
would then be able to do as he pleased." 31 

For the African slave, the revolutionary ideology seemed to bear 
a promise of freedom. Surely the liberty which Washington, Jeffer- 
son, and other American Whigs demanded for themselves could be 
claimed by those who were truly in bondage. To be certain, it was no 
new thing for slaves to make supplication for their freedom. Even 
prior to the Revolution, they brought suits against masters who 
restrained them of their liberty and petitioned legislatures "to be 
liberated from a State of Slavery." The philosophy expressed in the 
opening passages of the Declaration of Independence was a powerful 
engine which they could use, negatively or positively, to drive home 
the contradiction between their own debased status and "a land 
gloriously contending for the sweets of freedom" or simply to chal- 
lenge the right of one man to hold another. 32 For many thralls, 
service in the state forces or, more characteristically, in the Conti- 
nental lines, was the pathway to liberation. And the very names 
adopted by some of the sable soldiers — Cuff Liberty, Dick Freedom, 
Jube Freeman, or Juperter Free— were as clear an indication of their 
motivation and ideology as could be found anywhere. Although they 
had no particular fondness for monarchy or the British troops, many 
slaves, pursuing freedom in whatever quarter it seemed to beckon, 
voluntarily sought refuge behind His Majesty's lines. 33 

Despite the threatened attacks on private property and the occa- 
sional calls for levelling, the demands of the poor, the voteless, and 
the landless were generally not of such a nature that a wholesale 
remaking for the creation of greater opportunities for mobility within 
the liberal, open society of eighteenth century America. But the 
slaves, who petitioned for their freedom, and the quasi-free blacks 
who sought an end to discriminatory treatment, did demand a new, 
free, society in which all men would be able to strive without having 
imposed upon them the restraining handicap of race. If any single 
concept may be said to have animated the dispossessed classes in 
the era of the Revolution it was the idea of equality, not literally 

100 



to think and reason for itself. By no means slow to arrive at this 
perception, the elite leaders of the revolutionary movement soon 
placed a new emphasis upon internal restraint. "These tarrings and 
featherings," complained John Adams in 1774, "this breaking open 
of houses by rude and insolent Rabbles, in Resentment for private 
Wrongs or in pursuance of private Prejudices and Passions, must 
be discountenanced." In short, the people must not get ahead of their 
leaders. Or, as Governor Thomas Hutchinson unequivocally ex- 
pressed it: "The spirit of liberty spread where it was not intended." 27 

Acting on their own, or in collaboration with elite radical leader- 
ship, "the mobile" behaved in an ideological context that simul- 
taneously justified their immediate deeds and encouraged them to 
expect a change in their circumstances. Having heard their "betters" 
proclaim a desire for liberty, and having listened to and even joined 
with them in asserting their "natural rights" they used these con- 
cepts to formulate their own demands. They were aided immeasurably 
by the egalitarian implications not only of the Declaration of Inde- 
pendence but of that most widely known of revolutionary pamphlets, 
Thomas Paine's Common Sense: "Where there are no distinctions, 
there can be no superiority; perfect equality affords no temptation." 28 
Here was a goal for the poor, a theology for the slave, a platform for 
the voteless. For a few, the egalitarian notions implicit in this and 
other literature of the revolutionary era provided a credo for radical 
action, which often took the form of attacks on private property and 
on the traditional mechanisms of social control. In May, 1775, a 
deposition presented to one county court on the eastern shore of 
Maryland recorded that a wheelwright refused to attend a militia 
muster because he understood that "the gentlemen were intending 
to make us all fight for their lands and Negroes" and then said 
"damn them (meaning the gentlemen) if I had a few more white 
people to join me I could get all the Negroes in the County to back 
us and they would do more good in the night than the white people 
could do in the day. ..." He further averred that they could find 
ammunition and that "if all the gentlemen were killed we should 
have the best of the land to tend and besides could get money enough 
while they were about it as they have got all the money in their 
hands." 29 By the summer of 1776, indeed, poor whites, Negroes, and 
loyalists on the eastern shore of Maryland were rebelling against 
the revolutionary leaders, and on June 28th a reluctant provincial 
convention both voted independence and dispatched troops to the 
scene of trouble. 30 

Expectations as to what the Revolution might accomplish were 
doubtless almost as numerous as colonists. But the low status 
groups certainly perceived the Revolution as affording the oppor- 

99 



tunity to acquire land (either in already settled areas or in the West), 
to gain political rights, and — in the case of slaves and servants — to 
be free. The desire for political democracy — as represented by simple 
rather than complex governments, universal manhood suffrage, and 
the elimination of property qualifications for office holding— was 
probably the most important goal since it could be a means to 
securing the other objectives. For some, independence would hope- 
fully mean the right simply to be left alone, as a horrified Landon 
Carter bemoaned in sending along this definition of "Independency" 
to his friend George Washington: "It was expected to be a form of 
Government that, by being independent of the rich men, every man 
would then be able to do as he pleased." 31 

For the African slave, the revolutionary ideology seemed to bear 
a promise of freedom. Surely the liberty which Washington, Jeffer- 
son, and other American Whigs demanded for themselves could be 
claimed by those who were truly in bondage. To be certain, it was no 
new thing for slaves to make supplication for their freedom. Even 
prior to the Revolution, they brought suits against masters who 
restrained them of their liberty and petitioned legislatures "to be 
liberated from a State of Slavery." The philosophy expressed in the 
opening passages of the Declaration of Independence was a powerful 
engine which they could use, negatively or positively, to drive home 
the contradiction between their own debased status and "a land 
gloriously contending for the sweets of freedom" or simply to chal- 
lenge the right of one man to hold another. 32 For many thralls, 
service in the state forces or, more characteristically, in the Conti- 
nental lines, was the pathway to liberation. And the very names 
adopted by some of the sable soldiers — Cuff Liberty, Dick Freedom, 
Jube Freeman, or Juperter Free — were as clear an indication of their 
motivation and ideology as could be found anywhere. Although they 
had no particular fondness for monarchy or the British troops, many 
slaves, pursuing freedom in whatever quarter it seemed to beckon, 
voluntarily sought refuge behind His Majesty's lines. 33 

Despite the threatened attacks on private property and the occa- 
sional calls for levelling, the demands of the poor, the voteless, and 
the landless were generally not of such a nature that a wholesale 
remaking for the creation of greater opportunities for mobility within 
the liberal, open society of eighteenth century America. But the 
slaves, who petitioned for their freedom, and the quasi-free blacks 
who sought an end to discriminatory treatment, did demand a new, 
free, society in which all men would be able to strive without having 
imposed upon them the restraining handicap of race. If any single 
concept may be said to have animated the dispossessed classes in 
the era of the Revolution it was the idea of equality, not literally 

100 



defined and precisely distributed but realized in respect for the 
dignity of all men. So strong was their belief in equality, so much 
did they make it the rule by which they judged the behavior of their 
leaders and more affluent neighbors that they were inclined to react 
strongly to its denial even in seemingly inconsequential matters. 
In 1779, at the annual independence day celebration in Lancaster, 
Pennsylvania, a group of militiamen, "being a little merry," attacked 
a set of "the chief people in town" who were diverting themselves at a 
tavern. Noting that the gentlemen were drinking alone, the troops 
felt insulted and smashed a few windows, they thinking that "there 
ought to be no distinction but all get drunk together." 34 

For those on the bottom of American society the Revolution 
brought only a partial fulfillment of their expectations; for some, it 
was an experience of disappointment. To be sure, there was much 
in the way of social and political democracy associated with the 
movement, but in significant ways it offered little or nothing to 
people in need of much. 35 For the propertyless, the states proved 
unable and largely unwilling to offer assistance; had the states 
engaged in land distribution programs they would have had to 
forego a quick profit and to extend credit, but they were badly in 
need of cash and offered credit only to purchasers with good security. 
The confiscation of Loyalist estates benefited few who lacked prop- 
erty; at least three- fourths of the property seized enriched the 
affluent who alone possessed the credit or capital to purchase it. 36 
Portions of the great proprietary and similar tracts did become the 
possession of former tenants but most of this land was acquired by 
a mixture of local farmers, new settlers and speculators. Among the 
soldiers who gained land as a reward for their services or in exchange 
for their certificates were doubtless some who had not previously 
owned property. In removing from their legal codes the laws sup- 
porting primogeniture and entail, the new states made an important 
symbolic gesture in the direction of facilitating access to land, but 
since these ancient restrictions had been largely inoperative they 
were probably of no real consequence for the propertyless. The 
greatest potential boon for those without property was the opening 
of the West. Two hundred thousand people moved onto the new 
lands from New York to Georgia; for them, advancement into "the 
garden of America" provided the opportunity not only to become 
fee-simple yeomen but to find new hope in a revitalized social order 
which promised a higher standard of living. 

It was, of course, no part of the aim of the Revolution's leaders 
to bring about a redistribution of wealth in America. Nor, for that 
matter, was this an expectation of those who possessed little or no 
money. The state of our present knowledge does not permit gen- 

101 



eralizations as to how the Revolution affected the lives of particular 
poor people. But the few studies that treat the social structure of 
revolutionary America indicate that the tendency towards greater 
inequality in the distribution of wealth noted prior to 1776 con- 
tinued—may well, indeed, have been accelerated— thereafter. 37 Allan 
Kulikoff, in concluding his analysis of post-revolutionary Boston, 
notes that "Rich and poor were divided by wealth, ascribed status, 
and segregated living patterns. Individuals could rarely breach a 
status barrier in fewer than two generations. While social mobility 
may have been relatively easy for a few immediately after the 
Revolution, these extraordinary opportunities tended to disappear 
as population returned to its pre-Revolutionary size. Since political 
power was monopolized by the wealthy, the poor could only defer- 
entially appeal for aid." 38 

For the majority of African slaves the Revolution was an experi- 
ence of evanescent expectations. Certainly the implications of the 
philosophy associated with the winning of national freedom had 
occasioned examinations and doubts about the institution of slavery 
and the place of the Negro in American life. 39 It is true that many 
slaves were manumitted in return for their military services; others 
were freed as a result of actions taken by conscience-striken masters, 
or as a consequence of the legislative acts and judicial decisions 
which either immediately or gradually brought the institution to 
an end in the northern states. 40 The prohibition of slavery in the 
Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was based mainly on the revolutionary 
sentiment in favor of freedom and, as such, was an important ba- 
rometer of blacks; the Revolution affected no change in their status. 
It is hard to dispute the judgement of one authority: "Ironically 
enough, America's freedom was the means of giving slavery itself 
a longer life than it was to have in the British Empire." 41 Even the 
Negroes who escaped the shackles of bondage in the Revolutionary 
era found their taste of freedom bitter-sweet at best. 42 

The unfranchised, and those who expected American political 
institutions to afford equal rights and true majority rule as a result 
of the Revolution, could take only limited comfort in the event. Most 
of the new states continued the property requirements for voting 
which had been universal in the colonial period, although some 
lowered the amounts demanded. Only four states awarded the fran- 
chise to all taxpayers. It is unlikely, therefore, that the number of 
new voters increased by only a few percentage points. 43 Moreover, 
the movement for simple republican governments composed of uni- 
cameral legislatures failed. 44 Only in the bills of rights which served 
as preambles to the new state constitutions, in the assurance that the 
citizen had certain liberties against government, was much of the 

102 



defined and precisely distributed but realized in respect for the 
dignity of all men. So strong was their belief in equality, so much 
did they make it the rule by which they judged the behavior of their 
leaders and more affluent neighbors that they were inclined to react 
strongly to its denial even in seemingly inconsequential matters. 
In 1779, at the annual independence day celebration in Lancaster, 
Pennsylvania, a group of militiamen, "being a little merry," attacked 
a set of "the chief people in town" who were diverting themselves at a 
tavern. Noting that the gentlemen were drinking alone, the troops 
felt insulted and smashed a few windows, they thinking that "there 
ought to be no distinction but all get drunk together." 34 

For those on the bottom of American society the Revolution 
brought only a partial fulfillment of their expectations; for some, it 
was an experience of disappointment. To be sure, there was much 
in the way of social and political democracy associated with the 
movement, but in significant ways it offered little or nothing to 
people in need of much. 35 For the propertyless, the states proved 
unable and largely unwilling to offer assistance; had the states 
engaged in land distribution programs they would have had to 
forego a quick profit and to extend credit, but they were badly in 
need of cash and offered credit only to purchasers with good security. 
The confiscation of Loyalist estates benefited few who lacked prop- 
erty; at least three-fourths of the property seized enriched the 
affluent who alone possessed the credit or capital to purchase it. 36 
Portions of the great proprietary and similar tracts did become the 
possession of former tenants but most of this land was acquired by 
a mixture of local farmers, new settlers and speculators. Among the 
soldiers who gained land as a reward for their services or in exchange 
for their certificates were doubtless some who had not previously 
owned property. In removing from their legal codes the laws sup- 
porting primogeniture and entail, the new states made an important 
symbolic gesture in the direction of facilitating access to land, but 
since these ancient restrictions had been largely inoperative they 
were probably of no real consequence for the propertyless. The 
greatest potential boon for those without property was the opening 
of the West. Two hundred thousand people moved onto the new 
lands from New York to Georgia; for them, advancement into "the 
garden of America" provided the opportunity not only to become 
fee-simple yeomen but to find new hope in a revitalized social order 
which promised a higher standard of living. 

It was, of course, no part of the aim of the Revolution's leaders 
to bring about a redistribution of wealth in America. Nor, for that 
matter, was this an expectation of those who possessed little or no 
money. The state of our present knowledge does not permit gen- 

101 



eralizations as to how the Revolution affected the lives of particular 
poor people. But the few studies that treat the social structure of 
revolutionary America indicate that the tendency towards greater 
inequality in the distribution of wealth noted prior to 1776 con- 
tinued—may well, indeed, have been accelerated — thereafter. 37 Allan 
Kulikoff, in concluding his analysis of post-revolutionary Boston, 
notes that "Rich and poor were divided by wealth, ascribed status, 
and segregated living patterns. Individuals could rarely breach a 
status barrier in fewer than two generations. While social mobility 
may have been relatively easy for a few immediately after the 
Revolution, these extraordinary opportunities tended to disappear 
as population returned to its pre-Revolutionary size. Since political 
power was monopolized by the wealthy, the poor could only defer- 
entially appeal for aid." 38 

For the majority of African slaves the Revolution was an experi- 
ence of evanescent expectations. Certainly the implications of the 
philosophy associated with the winning of national freedom had 
occasioned examinations and doubts about the institution of slavery 
and the place of the Negro in American life. 39 It is true that many 
slaves were manumitted in return for their military services; others 
were freed as a result of actions taken by conscience-striken masters, 
or as a consequence of the legislative acts and judicial decisions 
which either immediately or gradually brought the institution to 
an end in the northern states. 40 The prohibition of slavery in the 
Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was based mainly on the revolutionary 
sentiment in favor of freedom and, as such, was an important ba- 
rometer of blacks; the Revolution affected no change in their status. 
It is hard to dispute the judgement of one authority: "Ironically 
enough, America's freedom was the means of giving slavery itself 
a longer life than it was to have in the British Empire." 41 Even the 
Negroes who escaped the shackles of bondage in the Revolutionary 
era found their taste of freedom bitter-sweet at best. 42 

The unfranchised, and those who expected American political 
institutions to afford equal rights and true majority rule as a result 
of the Revolution, could take only limited comfort in the event. Most 
of the new states continued the property requirements for voting 
which had been universal in the colonial period, although some 
lowered the amounts demanded. Only four states awarded the fran- 
chise to all taxpayers. It is unlikely, therefore, that the number of 
new voters increased by only a few percentage points. 43 Moreover, 
the movement for simple republican governments composed of uni- 
cameral legislatures failed. 44 Only in the bills of rights which served 
as preambles to the new state constitutions, in the assurance that the 
citizen had certain liberties against government, was much of the 

102 



potential criticism of the Revolution's political settlement prob- 
ably blunted. 

A most useful approach to the study of the powerless and the 
American Revolution is one which takes into account the evolution 
of the colonial social structure and political institutions. Such a 
perspective can provide the historian with an understanding of the 
reality and nature of a significant number of denied Americans — 
slaves, the voteless, seamen, and the poor— as well as the involve- 
ment of at least some of them in the radicalization of pre-Revolu- 
tionary politics. From this viewpoint it becomes clear that the 
Revolution marked not the initiation but rather the acceleration of 
processes of social and political change which had begun well before 
its occurrence and which are associated with the modernization of 
American society. The movement for independence was incomplete 
in that it did not fully address the condition of the dependent sectors 
of the population. But the failure of the downtrodden to develop an 
ideology which challenged the fundamental bases of American life 
does not negate the value of assessing the Revolution from the 
standpoint of those on the bottom of society. Indeed it helps us to 
understand better the goals and concerns of the leaders of that 
movement, and somewhat ironically, the apparently overwhelming 
identification with the movement even on the part of those who 
gained but little from it. 

If the Revolution was not altogether liberating, it was surely 
liberal and apparently promissory. In its promissory quality, it held 
out the hope of a better future for those whose present was less than 
happy. In its liberating quality it marked the enshrinement of the 
privatistic, competitive, "democracy in cupidity" — given classic 
sanction in Madison's "Federalist Number Ten"— which evolved 
slowly but steadily during the colonial era at the expense of holistic 
or otherwise restraining philosophies. Ultimately, these two qualities 
were incompatible; they produced not the amelioration but rather 
the exacerbation of social tensions, a heightening of the distinctions 
between men which has provided the occasion for almost every 
subsequent debate in American political history. 



FOOTNOTES 

1 Jesse Lemisch, "The American Revolution Seen from the Bottom Up," 
in Barton Bernstein, ed., Towards a New Past: Dissenting Essays in Ameri- 
can History (New York, 1968), 3-45. 

2 Ibid., 29. 

3 Louis M. Hacker, "The American Revolution, Economic Aspects," 



103 



Marxist Quarterly, I (1937), 46-47. Other expressions of this point of view 
may be found in Carl Becker, The History of Political Parties in the Pro- 
vince of New York (Madison, Wisconsin, 1909), Louis M. Hacker, The 
Triumph of American Captialism (New York, 1940) and Arthur M. Schle- 
singer. The Colonial Merchants and the American Revolution (New York, 
1918). 

4 Arthur M. Schlesinger, "The American Revolution Reconsidered," Politi- 
cal Science Quarterly, XXXIV (1919), 61-78. 

5 J. Franklin Jameson, The American Revolution Considered As a Social 
Movement (Princeton, New Jersey, 1926). 

6 Lemisch, "The American Revolution Seen from the Bottom Up," 6. 

7 Aside from Lemisch's article cited above, other studies showing this 
perspective include his "Jack Tar in the Streets: Merchant Seamen in the 
Politics of Revolutionary America," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., 
XXV (1968), 371-407 and Staughton Lynd, Class Conflict, Slavery, and the 
United States Constitution (Indianapolis, Indiana, 1967). 

8 Among those studies which focus directly on the "inarticulate" during the 
Revolution are James H. Hutson, "An Investigation of the Inarticulate: 
Philadelphia's White Oaks," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., XXVIII 
(1971), 3-26 and Charles S. Olton, "Philadelphia's Merchanics in the First 
Decade of Revolution, 1765-1775," Journal of American History. LIX ( 1972), 
311-26. Other work which has significant bearing on the denied classes and 
the Revolution includes Merrill Jensen, "The American People and the 
American Revolution," ibid., LVII (1970), 5-35; Roger Champagne, "New 
York's Radicals and the Coming of Independence," ibid.. XI (1964), 21-39: 
David C. Skaggs, "Maryland's Impulse Toward Social Revolution." ibid., 
XIV (1967), 771-86; and Allan Kulikoff, "The Progress of Inequality in 
Revolutionary Boston," William and Mary Quarterly. 3rd Ser., XXVIII 
(1971), 375-412. 

9 Edmund S. Morgan, "Conflict and Consensus in the American Revolu- 
tion," in Stephen G. Kurtz and James H. Hutson, eds., Essays on the 
American Revolution (Chapel Hill, 1971), 297. 

10 Hutson, "An Investigation of the Inarticulate," William and Mary 
Quarterly, XXVIII, 24-25. 

11 Lemisch, "The American Revolution Seen from the Bottom Up," 3-29, 
passim. 

12 Sidney Kaplan, The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolu- 
tion (Greenwich, Connecticut, 1973), 13. 

13 James A. Henretta, "Economic Development and Social Structure in 
Colonial Boston," William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Ser., XXII (1965), 75-92. 

14 Douglas Lamar Jones, "The Strolling Poor: Transiency in Eighteenth- 
Century Massachusetts," Journal of Social History, VIII (1975), 28-49. 

15 See my forthcoming book, Conestoga Crossroads: Lancaster, Pennsyl- 
vania, 1730-1790, to be published by the Pennsylvania Historical and Mu- 
seum Commission. 

16 James T. Lemon and Gary B. Nash, "The Distribution of Wealth in 

104 



potential criticism of the Revolution's political settlement prob- 
ably blunted. 

A most useful approach to the study of the powerless and the 
American Revolution is one which takes into account the evolution 
of the colonial social structure and political institutions. Such a 
perspective can provide the historian with an understanding of the 
reality and nature of a significant number of denied Americans — 
slaves, the voteless, seamen, and the poor — as well as the involve- 
ment of at least some of them in the radicalization of pre-Revolu- 
tionary politics. From this viewpoint it becomes clear that the 
Revolution marked not the initiation but rather the acceleration of 
processes of social and political change which had begun well before 
its occurrence and which are associated with the modernization of 
American society. The movement for independence was incomplete 
in that it did not fully address the condition of the dependent sectors 
of the population. But the failure of the downtrodden to develop an 
ideology which challenged the fundamental bases of American life 
does not negate the value of assessing the Revolution from the 
standpoint of those on the bottom of society. Indeed it helps us to 
understand better the goals and concerns of the leaders of that 
movement, and somewhat ironically, the apparently overwhelming 
identification with the movement even on the part of those who 
gained but little from it. 

If the Revolution was not altogether liberating, it was surely 
liberal and apparently promissory. In its promissory quality, it held 
out the hope of a better future for those whose present was less than 
happy. In its liberating quality it marked the enshrinement of the 
privatistic, competitive, "democracy in cupidity" — given classic 
sanction in Madison's "Federalist Number Ten"— which evolved 
slowly but steadily during the colonial era at the expense of holistic 
or otherwise restraining philosophies. Ultimately, these two qualities 
were incompatible; they produced not the amelioration but rather 
the exacerbation of social tensions, a heightening of the distinctions 
between men which has provided the occasion for almost every 
subsequent debate in American political history. 



FOOTNOTES 

1 Jesse Lemisch, "The American Revolution Seen from the Bottom Up," 
in Barton Bernstein, ed., Towards a New Past: Dissenting Essays in Ameri- 
can History (New York, 1968), 3-45. 

2 Ibid., 29. 

3 Louis M. Hacker, "The American Revolution, Economic Aspects," 



103 



Marxist Quarterly, I (1937), 46-47. Other expressions of this point of view 
may be found in Carl Becker, The History of Political Parties in the Pro- 
vince of New York (Madison, Wisconsin, 1909), Louis M. Hacker, The 
Triumph of American Captialism (New York, 1940) and Arthur M. Schle- 
singer, The Colonial Merchants and the American Revolution (New York, 
1918). 

4 Arthur M. Schlesinger, "The American Revolution Reconsidered," Politi- 
cal Science Quarterly, XXXIV (1919), 61-78. 

5 J. Franklin Jameson, The American Revolution Considered As a Social 
Movement (Princeton, New Jersey, 1926). 

6 Lemisch, "The American Revolution Seen from the Bottom Up," 6. 

7 Aside from Lemisch's article cited above, other studies showing this 
perspective include his "Jack Tar in the Streets: Merchant Seamen in the 
Politics of Revolutionary America," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., 
XXV (1968), 371-407 and Staughton Lynd, Class Conflict, Slavery, and the 
United States Constitution (Indianapolis, Indiana, 1967). 

8 Among those studies which focus directly on the "inarticulate" during the 
Revolution are James H. Hutson, "An Investigation of the Inarticulate: 
Philadelphia's White Oaks," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., XXVIII 
(1971), 3-26 and Charles S. Olton, "Philadelphia's Merchanics in the First 
Decade of Revolution, 1765-1775," Journal of American History, LIX(1972), 
311-26. Other work which has significant bearing on the denied classes and 
the Revolution includes Merrill Jensen, "The American People and the 
American Revolution," ibid., LVII (1970), 5-35; Roger Champagne, "New 
York's Radicals and the Coming of Independence," ibid., XI (1964), 21-39; 
David C. Skaggs. "Maryland's Impulse Toward Social Revolution," ibid., 
XIV (1967), 771-86; and Allan Kulikoff, "The Progress of Inequality in 
Revolutionary Boston," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., XXVIII 
(1971), 375-412. 

9 Edmund S. Morgan, "Conflict and Consensus in the American Revolu- 
tion," in Stephen G. Kurtz and James H. Hutson, eds., Essays on the 
American Revolution (Chapel Hill, 1971), 297. 

10 Hutson, "An Investigation of the Inarticulate," William and Mary 
Quarterly, XXVIII, 24-25. 

11 Lemisch, "The American Revolution Seen from the Bottom Up," 3-29, 
passim. 

12 Sidney Kaplan, The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolu- 
tion (Greenwich, Connecticut, 1973), 13. 

13 James A. Henretta, "Economic Development and Social Structure in 
Colonial Boston," William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Ser., XXII ( 1965), 75-92. 

14 Douglas Lamar Jones, "The Strolling Poor: Transiency in Eighteenth- 
Century Massachusetts," Journal of Social History, VIII (1975), 28-49. 

15 See my forthcoming book, Conestoga Crossroads: Lancaster, Pennsyl- 
vania, 1730-1790, to be published by the Pennsylvania Historical and Mu- 
seum Commission. 

16 James T Lemon and Gary B. Nash, "The Distribution of Wealth in 

104 



Eighteenth-Century America: A Century of Change in Chester County, 
Pennsylvania, 1693-1802," Journal of Social History, II (1968), 1-24. For the 
South, David C. Skaggs, "Maryland's Impulse Toward Social Revolution," 
Journal of American History, LIV, 771-86, has important material. For the 
social structure of the colonies, 1763-1783, see Jackson Turner Main, The 
Social Structure of Revolutionary America (Princeton, New Jersey, 1965). 

17 Kenneth A. Lockridge, "Social Change and the Meaning of the American 
Revolution," Journal of Social History, VI (1973), 403-439. 

18 James A. Henretta, The Evolution of American Society, 1700-1815 (Lex- 
ington, Massachusetts, 1973), ch. 3. See also Carl Bridenbaugh, Cities in 
Revolt: Urban Life in America, 1 743- 1 776 (New York, 1955). 

19 Merrill Jensen, The Founding of a Nation: A History of the American 
Revolution, 1 763- 1 776 (New York, 1968), 31-32. 

20 Bridenbaugh, Cities in Revolt, 114; Lemisch, "Jack Tar in the Streets," 
William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Ser., XXV, 387; John Hope Franklin, From 
Slavery to Freedom: A History of American Negroes (New York, 1956), 73, 
75, 79, 91-92, 106; Richard B. Morris, Government and Labor in Early 
America (New York, 1946), ch. 3. Lemisch draws attention to the class basis 
of the impressment riots by pointing out the divergent motivations of 
seamen and non-seamen participants. 

21 Gary B. Nash, "The Transformation of Urban Politics, 1700-1765," 
Journal of American History, LX ( 1973), 605-632. 

22 Ibid. 

23 Lemisch, "The American Revolution Seen from the Bottom Up," 21-22; 
John Shy, Toward Lexington: The Role of the British Army in the Coming 
of the American Revolution (Princeton, New Jersey, 1965), 165. 

24 Skaggs, "Maryland's Impulse Toward Social Revolution," Journal of 
American History, LIV, 781-82. 

25 Pauline Maier, From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the 
Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776 (New York, 
1972), 86-89. 

26 Ibid., 272-73. 

27 Ibid., 274; Jensen, "The American Revolution and the American People," 
Journal of American History, LVII, 21. 

28 Nelson F. Adkins, ed., Thomas Paine: Common Sense and Other Political 
Writings (New York, 1953), 30. 

29 Jensen, "The American Revolution and the American People," Journal 
of American History, LVII, 31. 

30 Ibid., 32. 

31 For the significant, but frustrated attempt to bring political democracy 
to the new states in the Revolution see Elisha P. Douglass, Rebels and 
Democras: The Struggle for Equal Political Rights and Majoriy Rule 
During the American Revolution (Chapel Hill, 1955); Jensen, "The American 
Revolution and the American People," Journal of American History, LVII, 
30. 



105 



32 Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution (Chapel Hill, 
1961), 38-40, 43-50. 

33 Ibid., 51-52, 115. 

34 Journal of the Lancaster [Pa. ] County Historical Society, LVIII ( 1954), 5. 

35 On political democracy and the American Revolution see Merrill Jensen, 
"Democracy and the American Revolution," Huntington Library Quarterly, 
XX (1957), 321-41. 

36 Jackson Turner Main, The Sovereign States, 1775-1783 (New York, 
1973), 319, 331. 

37 Main, Social Structure of Revolutionary America, 286-87; Kulikoff, "The 
Progress of Inequality in Boston," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., 
XXVIII, 409-11. 

38 Kulikoff, Ibid., 409. 

39 Bernard Bailyn, ed., Pamphlets of the American Revolution (Cambridge, 
Massachusetts, 1965), 142-50; Winthrop D. Jurdaon, White Over Black: 
American Attitudes Toward the Negro (Chapel Hill, 1968), ch. 9. 

40 Arthur Zilversmit, The First Emancipation (Chicago, 1971). 

41 Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom, 143. 

42 Leon Litwack, North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free Staes, 1790-1860. 

43 Chilton Williamson, American Suffrage: From Property to Democracy 
(Princeton, New Jersey, 1960). 

44 Douglass, Rebels and Democrats; Gordon Wood, The Creation of the 
American Republic, 1776-1787 (Chapel Hill, 1969). Wood traces the conser- 
vative Whig views on government and bicameralism. 



106 




d emco