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Liberalism and the American Revolution Author(s): Joyce Appleby Reviewed work(s): Source: The New England Quarterly,

Vol. 49, No. 1 (Mar., 1976), pp. 3-26 Published by: The New England Quarterly, Inc. Stable URL: . Accessed: 12/10/2012 20:34
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MARCH 1976
LIBERALISM AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION historians of theAmeriproblemconfronting can Revolutionis to explain thateventwithoutrelying embeddedin the revolutionary legacy. upon theassumptions fortheyhave The heirsofa revolution are at a disadvantage, receivedtherevolutionary tradition as a setofunexaminedasto theviolentoverThe men fact that would resort sumptions. throwof theirgovernment forpersonalliberty is such an asThe preeminent fathers sumption. place whichthe founding to individual freedom as and has been natural, gave accepted if theprinciples in the Declarationof Independence set forth have not alwaysbeen takenas self-evident truths, theyhave rarelybeen approachedas radical ideas requiringexplanation.This does notmean thatthehistoriography of theAmerican Revolutionhas remainedwhereGeorgeBancroft leftit. For forty of the twohundredyearsof writing on the subject, currents of European thought the tenpowerful interrupted to examine American within events a cultural closed dency context.However,the Progressive historians' effort to interas a maskbehindwhichdiverse economic pretliberalideology for on foundered the rock of groupsstruggled power, specific as a challengeto theWhig explanation proof.More enduring


T HE specific




for the Revolution was the scholarshipof the Imperialist school associatedwith CharlesAndrews.These colonial historianseffectively thatthe tyranny the revoludemonstrated be deevoked could more tionarypamphleteers accurately scribedas a legitimate to endeavorby Britishpolicymakers the colonial The old bewilderment of system bring up-to-date. AmericanTories over the radical responseof theircompatriots has supplied contemporary validationto the Imperialists'claim thatthe British was capable of evoking connection affection and loyalty. Still the Revolutiondid takeplace, and the imposingintellectual and moral statureof the men who led it has survivedpopular and scholarlyscrutiny for two centuries. a new revisionist years, During the last twenty-five the problemof reconciling revolutiongroup has confronted rhetoric with of British rule. man the realities ary Accepting as a culture-creating being, the Neo-Whig historianshave looked at the period as a sociallyconstructed reality.Their liberal nonetheless, hangs upon interpretation, assumptions about humannature. thecolonists' ofpurposeand Bytaking seriously expressions EdmundMorgan,BernardBailyn, RichardBuel, Jack motive, Greene,and GordonWood have movedwithhistorical imagination to recapturethe way the revolutionaries themselves theirsituation. In their view,theEnglishCommonperceived wealthliterature furnished the colonistswitha model of reand a critiqueof government publicanism power.' The Neois idealist,emphasizing the role which Whig interpretation colonial assumptions and values played in determining behavior.As Wood said of Bailyn,he foundthat"ideas counted fora greatdeal, notonlybeingresponsible fortheRevolution but also fortransforming thecharacter ofAmericansociety."2
1 See JackP. Greene, "The Flightfrom A Reviewof Recent Determinism: Literature on theComing of theAmerican SouthAtlantic Revolution," QuarLXI (1962) and RobertE. Shalhope,"Toward a RepublicanSynthesis: terly, The Emergence of an Understanding of Republicanism in American Historiand MaryQuarterly, William ography," xxxx(1972). 2 "Rhetoric and Realityin the American Williamand Mary Revolution," Quarterly, xxIII, 22 (1966).


The conceptofideastransforming American however, society, should be examined as a logical proposition.The English Commonwealth tradition forAmerihas done yeomanservice can historians, but it is after all a passivecomplexofconcepts unable to move men by itself.It cannot be used like some deus ex machinato explain the causes forbelief.Examining the contentof the revolutionary mind does not relieve the of theresponsibility historian forexplainingwhatcompelled what stirredpassions,and belief,what triggered reactions, whatpersuadedthe colonists of theirinterpretaof the truth tionofevents. One might deaccepttheCommonwealthmen's of to a break into while refusing scription political reality formal a session with seditious a crowd legislative join speech, to coerce the resignationof a crown commission-holder, countenance thedestruction of privatehomes,conniveat the of one of His burning organizepublic Majesty'sschooners, to town sentiments aumobilize meetings againstconstituted or riskthelossofself-governing thorities, by thwartprivileges the of commands the British Parliament. are acts These ing from a of a state mind consciousness, flowing revolutionary which accepts, a almostembraces, suspensionof the normal rules of conductand justifies behaviorby refernonordinary to the of the nature times. There is no ring extraordinary in the Commonwealth itself to produce tradition power by thisresponse. We are necessarily back to thesocialsituation thrown which a number to of endorse colonists these prompted significant actionsas a legitimate to fears.Although response justifiable the Neo-Whigsbegan with an explicitrejectionof the Proto locate the cause of the Revolutionin the efforts gressives' American socialstructure haverelatedtheir nonetheless, they, idealistexplanationto an interpretation of colonial society. More by inference than explicit demonstration, theyhave used theidea ofcolonialmaturity to explain thecolonial protest movement.Accordingto their interpretation, colonial had the society divergedslowlyfromBritishnormsthrough seventeenth and eighteenthcenturies.This imperceptible


became clear in the turbulent of differentiation years process afterthe Frenchand Indian War and explainsthe aggressive behaviorof thecolonists whennew Britishpolicieswere laid in the decade beforeIndedown. Intellectualdevelopments written to a radical idealization has "led pendence,Bailyn and conceptualization of the previouscentury and a half of an unAmerican Such necessarily interpretation experience."' therisks, theskewed and derstates thesocialtensions, relations personal anxieties generatedwhen legitimateauthorityis conwhythe particular challenged.It also leavesunanswered and set of legitimacy government ception personal liberty forthin the revolutionary literature should have seized the Americanimagination and carriedsobermen to violentprotestand the resort to arms. thesequestions,the Neo-WhigexplanaBy not answering tion of theAmericanRevolutionis necessarily tied to liberal It relies upon the liberal concept of human assumptions. natureand theproperrelationship of the individualto social detachment Yet the authority. personal implied in liberal runsathwart whatwe knowabout the social natureof theory men and women: theirdependenceupon integrating institutions and theirneed for social cohesion.The only formof social tension whichliberalism is thatgenerated by recognizes the explicit and unwarranted intrusionof authority upon If the universality individualfreedom. of this tensionis asthen it foran explanation is not to seek far sumed, necessary of the AmericanRevolution.Its causes are containedin the rationale forindependence: are instituted governments among men to protectindividual libertiesand destroyed by those same men when the governments fail to achieve thisgoal. If on the otherhand,liberalismis a culturalperspective which American the successful and Revolution through triumphed not the expressionof a constantand basic relationship betweenman and society, we are forcedto ask whatconditions would have promptedthe adoption of the liberal vision of
3 The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, 1967),vi.


the good society.The Neo-Whigshave immeasurably enrichedour knowledge of thewaycolonial patterns of thought mediatedbetweenthe colonists'anxietiesand the resolution of thoseanxietiesin a programof action. We still need to explain the natureand originof theiranxietiesand the circumstances ofa whichmade extralegal violencein theinterest radical theory of individualism tolerable. Recentscholarship has begun to coalescearound a new inof Insteadof theslowly society. terpretation prerevolutionary associatedwith diverging processof cultural differentiation the colonial maturity view, thereis now evidence of a disjuncturein colonial life in the second quarterof the eighteenthcentury. A social orderof due subordination incumbent in varying all members of the degreesupon community The gavewayin thedecadesafter 1730 to an atomizedsociety. of the societies contained, community-oriented disruption whichhad been establishedin the seventeenth century produced new circumstances of far-reaching For a importance. the contrasting statuses of freeand unfree, and independent starkalternatives. To be dedependent,came to represent of interdependence was quite a different pendentin a society from or thing being dependent fearing dependencein a sono longerintegrated cietyin whichinstitutions people's lives into a satisfying social order.This new social situationmade contemporaries peculiarlysensitiveto threatsagainst their freedom. human goals, personal Among the manysatisfying came to overshadow all others. This changing balance liberty betweenthe demandsof the community and the individual in the helps explain two puzzling Americandevelopments era: the colonists reacted withsuchfrenzied revolutionary why to Parliamentary efforts to enforce apprehensiveness imperial and whyliberalismwith its core affirmation of the controls, individual'sclaim upon societyto protecthis naturalrights could so easilyhave displaced the devotionto order which animatedcolonial lifea halfcentury earlier. Historicalresearch on the seventeenth has enabled century
large number of men coming of age in the 1740's and 1750's


us to appreciate morefully theefforts colonists madein that to establish structured, century traditionally interdependent Informed a understandcommunities. more by sophisticated of havebeen social some colonial historians ing organization, able to break from which a theliberal promoted perspective of individual searchthrough colonialrecords forevidence self-assertion recent and antiauthoritarian Instead stands. hisofNewEngland in the tories work on religion and scholarly colonies havedemonstrated theimportance colonists attached to socialorder and their to willingness giveup consequent social freedom to achieve coheEvidently stability. personal sionwasa widely shared and the drive for local autonomy goal, in theNewWorldserved to buildstrong communities rather than toliberate oftowns individuals. The microscopic studies in Connecticut and Massachusetts have revealedthatcomdetermined esmunity authority farming religious practices, land allocations, and social responsibilities.4 tablishments, Michael Zuckerman hasmadea goodcasefor the interpreting democratic as an device for suffrage apparently operational and socialcontrol in communities lackassuring conformity other As coercive force.5 Smith has ingany Timothy pointed in out,religious doctrinely groups opposedto civilsanctions turned to political to shoreup matters, religious authority when the"threat ofsocial faced with congregational discipline of barbarization, whichhungovertheircommon disorder,
4 Sumner Chilton Powell, Puritan Village: The Formation of a New England Town, Middletown,Conn., 1963; Richard L. Bushman,From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social Order in Connecticut,1690-1765(Cambridge, 1967); John Demos, A Little Commonwealth(New York, 1970); Kenneth A. Lockridge, A New England Town: The First Hundred Years (New York, 1970); Philip J. Greven, Jr.,Four Generations: Population, Land and Family in Colonial Andover, Massachusetts (Ithaca, 1970); See also T. H. Breen and Stephen Foster, "Moving to the New World: The Character of Early MassachusettsImmigration," William and Mary Quarterly,xxx, 217-219 (1973), and "The Puritans' GreatestAchievement:A Studyof Social Cohesion in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts,"Journal of American History,LX (1973). 5 "The Social Context of Democracy in Massachusetts,"William and Mary Quarterly, xxv, 3-30 (1968). David Grayson Allen, "The Zuckerman Thesis and the Process of Legal Rationalization in Provincial Massachusetts,with a Rebuttal by Michael Zuckerman," William and Mary Quarterly,xxix, 456ff. (1972), notes the decline of community cohesion as the eighteenth century progressed.


frontier of the Chesapeake before 167o.7 In Maryland the authority proprietor's supplied much of the directionforsocial organization, whereasin Pennsylvania the mosteffective social arrangements grewout ofthesectarian disciplineof the and Quakers Baptists.8 If we abandon,or at leastsuspend, beliefin thenotionthat the Americancolonistsarrivedwith the consciousdesire to breakwithEuropean corporate we mustquestion traditions, the social order in established these discrete colonialcomwhy munitiesbrokedown. Why did the group-centered social orthe deferential and the orthodox ganization, politicalsystem, establishments which characterized sevencongregational colonial fail to intact survive teenth-century society through the second thirdof the eighteenth A tentative ancentury?9 sweris thatdemographic and economicchangesoverwhelmed
6 Timothy L. Smith, "Congregation,State, and Denomination: The Forming of the American Religious Structure,"William and Mary Quarterly,xxv, 164 (1968). See also Sidney Mead, "From Coercion to Persuasion: Another Look at the Rise of Religious Liberty and the Emergence of Denominationalism," Church History,xxv (1956). 7 Bernard Bailyn, "Politics and Social Structurein Virginia," in James M. America: Essaysin Colonial History(Chapel Smith,Editor,Seventeenth-Century Hill, 1959); Wesley Frank Craven, The Southern Colonies in the Seventeenth Century(Baton Rouge, 1949), 269-299. 8 Gary Nash, Quakers and Politics: Pennsylvania, (Princeton,1968). r68.z-1726 See also JamesT. Lemon, The Best Poor Man's Country:A Geographical Study of Early SoutheasternPennsylvania (Baltimore, 1972). Although Lemon's "poor man's country"is characterizedthroughoutas one "free of external restraint" (5, 13) he also suggestsrepeatedly that the sectarian discipline in Quaker and Mennonite communities accounted for their superior economic growth and social stability(20-22, 71, 224). 9 A criticalstep in the underminingof deferentialpolitics was the shifting of attention of the colonial leaders from imperial authorities to domestic constituencies.This subtle processis illuminated somewhatby Robert M. Calhoon and Robert M. Weir, "The Scandalous Historyof Sir Egerton Leigh," William and Mary Quarterly, xxvi (1969),and David CurtisSkaggs,"Maryland's Impulse Toward Social Revolution: 1750-1776," Journal of American History,LIV(1968). See also Bushman,From Puritan to Yankee,122-143; Lockridge,A New England Town, 119-138.I am using the term congregationalhere in the generic sense rather than in specificreference to the Puritan churches.

In Virginia theself-made menoftheshort-lived enterprise."6 tobacco boomdid notsolidify their This waslargely power. becausethey lackedthecapacity to command or the respect tocreate theintegrative in theraw institutions ability lacking



these Richard Bushman escommunities' adaptive capacities. timated thatConnecticut's grewby 58 percent population between between 1670and 1700 andby380 percent 1700 and in town 1730,and"theincrease planting placedextraordinary on the colonial thedepressures Examining government."' Greven of Massachusetts, history Andover, mographic Philip found an explosive ratein thelastdecades ofthe population seventeenth but followed sustained slower, century by populationgrowth in succeeding decades. As longas the land resourcesof each townwere sufficient to distribute to the ofsurviving didnot children, growth bumper crop population a to "the small social Greven, According present problem. ruralagricultural towns to be likeAndover probably proved excellent torealize thegoalsoforder, hierarplacesin which andtheclosely-knit themiddle until decades chy, community" oftheeighteenth when outran thetown's century population allocation oflandand young men"reached sooner, maturity married established their moreeffecyounger, independence and earlier in life, and departed from thecommunity tively with evengreater in than earlier In frequency generations."" a town close toa similarly Dedham, Massachusetts, subjected Kenneth found thesamepattern.12 While scrutiny, Lockridge the did population growth among Pennsylvania Quakers not match theextraordinary of New thedefertility Englanders, of RobertWells indicate studies a fertility rate mographic which wouldhavemadeit difficult for to for parents provide all of their adultchildren. The conservative transmission of from culture onegeneration toanother waschallenged the by number of children to maturity.'" unprecedented growing
From Puritan to Yankee, 83. o10 11Four Generations,270-272. 12 A New England Town, 147ff. 13 "Family Size and FertilityControl in Eighteenth Century America: A Study of Quaker Families," Population Studies, xxv (1971); "Quaker Marriage Patterns in a Colonial Perspective,"William and Mary Quarterly,xxix (1972). See also John Demos, "Families in Colonial Bristol,Rhode Island: An Exercise in Historical Demography,"William and Mary Quarterly,xxv (1968); Kenneth A. Lockridge, "The Population of Dedham, Massachusetts, 1636-1736,"Eco-



inrural a change The "outforced society. growth Population ofBushman's Connecticut became livers" seventeenth-century thenorm as independent moved onto evensquatters, farmers, thelandoutside oftown oftown boundaries. The style planttoo.If one compares of thefounding ingchanged drastically Sumner with Chilton Powell's that of Charles Grant's Sudbury of land distribution Kent,thesocialconsequences by town in contrast to colony auctionbecomes planners apparent.'4 Andthequalities of Kentwererepresented in thedozens of frontier towns that ofsurplus marked themigration populationintoNorthwestern Western Connecticut, Massachusetts, NewYork's Mohawk and theSouthern tier ofMaine, Valley, andNewHampshire.15 Vermont, In themiddle oftheeighteenth decades thedemocentury structure of the colonies not was bythe graphic onlychanged of nativepopulation in the ruralcomgrowth spectacular munities oftheNorth, imbutalsobythetotal from increase of in a receivmigration. Philadelphia,city 12,000 1730,began from and Irelandat the rate of ing immigrants Germany a year, an average maintained for thenext two decades!16 7,000 WhilePhiladelphia wastheprincipal of debarkation for port white in the New New immigrants eighteenth century, Castle, andBoston alsofelt theimpact ofEurope's second York, great westward of the of many Although immigrants, migration.17
nomic HistoryReview, xix (1966); and Philip J. Greven,Jr.,"Family Structure in Seventeenth-Century Andover,Massachusetts,"William and Mary Quarterly,
xxIII (1966). 14 "Puritan Village,"

102-113; Democracy in the ConnecticutFrontier Town of Kent, New York, 1961, 12-39. 15Jackson Turner Main, The Social Structure of Revolutionary America (Princeton,1965), ilff.; P. M. G. Harris, "The Social Origins of American Leaders: The Demographic Foundations," Perspectives in American History, iii, 234-236 (1969). According to Harris' computation of towns recognized by the Massachusettslegislature,there were 23 new towns between 1696-1722;40 between 1723-1746;and 67 between 1747-1770. 16 Gary B. Nash, "Slaves and Slaveownersin Colonial Philadelphia," William and Mary Quarterly,xxx, 227-228,n. 11 (1973). See also A. E. Smith, Colonists in Bondage (Chapel Hill, 1947), 308-33717 J. Potter,"The Growthof Population in America, 1700-186o," in D. E. C. Eversleyand D. V. Glass, Editors, Population in History (London, 1965), 644-



or indentured serwhom probablyhalf were redemptioners as these served also diswherethey landed, vants, stayed ports access to tribution offered centers. Philadelphia particularly and other theinlandvalleys of theSusquehanna, Shenandoah, intermountain valleys of westernMaryland,Virginia,and North Carolina. In Charlestonthe principal immigrant of moreeasilybe brought undersocial control.The increasein the slave populationafter1710o,however,called forthmeatheslaves'freedom suresto restrict evenmorethanpreviously of action. Colonial legislatures, not individual masters, definedthe conditionsof black and white servitude.Despite theseefforts, South Carolina remainedvulnerableto the fear ofslaverebellions.18 Both SouthCarolinaand the Chesapeake a transformation between dramatic experienced demographic in thefirst in thesecond;37 percent decade; 30 percent percent by 500 percent populationin thisforty-year period increased to reach a ratio of one black for everythreepeople in the Many of Chesapeakeand two in threein South Carolina.19 thelandlesswhitesand marginalfamily were pushed farmers out into the areas of Southernsubsistence described farming Turner Main.20 Edmund Morgan'srecentcontenbyJackson tion thatthe yeomanfarmer came into his own in Virginia the is obviously during eighteenth century applicable to those
646; Wayland F. Dunaway, "Pennsylvania as an Early DistributingCenter of Population," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, LV (1931); Clifford Shipton, "Immigrationto New England, 168o-1740,"Journal of Political Economy,XLIV(1936); and Erna Risch, "JosephCrellius,ImmigrantBroker,"
XII (1939). 18 M. Eugene Sirmans, "The Legal Status of the Slave in South Carolina, 1670-1740," Journal of Southern History, xxviII (1962). Herbert Aptheker, American Negro Slaves Revolts (New York, 1943), 174-175, 184, and Elmer D. NEW ENGLAND QUARTERLY,

the 172o's and 1730's was the black slave who, of course, could

and 1740. Not only was there an absolute increase of 51 1700oo

in the 172o's; and 38 percent in the 1730o's, but the black

Johnsonand Kathleen Lewis Sloan, Editors, South Carolina: A Documentary Profileof the Palmetto State (Columbia, 1971), 11o-111. 19 U. S. Bureau of the Census,Historical Statistics of the United States,Washington, 1960, 756. For the impact of immigrationupon Maryland see Skaags, "Maryland's Impulse Toward Social Revolution: 1750-1776," 771. 20Social Structureof RevolutionaryAmerica,49ff.



thesocialdislocaNordoesit takeintoaccount blacklabor.21 of laborand land tionsinvolved in sucha wholesale switch usage. Economicforces lay behindmanyof the demographic of the decline Whilethestriking changes 172o'sand 1730's. in theinfant in rate Northern rural communithe mortality tiesis partially conditions, byfortuitous prosperity explained alsocontributed Economic standards. byraising growth living Eubothwhite stimulated and blackimmigration. obviously famines andeconomic distress created a poolofpotenropean tial immigrants, but therapidgrowth in theAtlantic commercein foodstuffs the demand and timber for promoted and which turned land the servants, tenants, buyers shipping ofpassengers Economic intoa major raised business.22 growth all the but most frontier remote incomes, brought outposts intoconnection withthegreat Atlantic rewarded commerce, and generated local capitalaccumulaenterprise, impressive tion.23 These sameresults severe put upon social pressures land values waves stimulated of land stability. Rising speculationfrom to NewHampshire the which undermined Georgia
21"Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox," Journal of American History,LIX, 28 (1972). 22Smith,Colonists in Bondage, 44-55, 113ff. D. A. Farnie, "The Commercial Economic HistoryReview, xv (1962); George Empire of the Atlantic,1607-1783," R. Taylor, "American Economic Growth Before 1840," Journal of Economic History,xxiv (1964); James G. Lydon, "Philadelphia's Commercial Expansion, 1720-1739," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography,xci (1967); and Ralph Davis, "English Foreign Trade, 1700-1774,"Economic History Review, xv (1962). Lemon, Best Poor Man's Country, 179ff. 23Aubrey Land, "Economic Base and Social Structure: The Northern Chesapeake in the Eighteenth Century," Journal of Economic History, xxv (1965); James Henretta, "Economic Development and Social Structurein Colonial Boston," William and Mary Quarterly,xxii (1965); Jacob Price, "The Economic Growth of the Chesapeake and the European Market, 1695-1775," xxiv (1964); Edward Edelman, "Thomas Hancock, Journalof Economic History, Colonial Merchant," Journal of Economic and Business History, I (1928); Lemon, Best Poor Man's Country,222ff.; Bushman, From Puritan to Yankee, 122-133; Main, Social Structureof RevolutionaryAmerica,61, 281ff.; Gary Walton, "New Evidence on Colonial Commerce," Journal of Economic History, xxviii (1968). William S. Sachs, "Interurban Correspondentsand the Developmentof a National EconomyBeforethe Revolution: New York as a Case Study," New York History,xxxvi (1955).

fromwhite to who could hold out throughthe changeover



of land resources. Possibilities conservative for development attiintroduced but promotedenterprise, competitive profit Land values climbed tudes that destroyed group solidarity. and orsteadilybut caused dissensionover the distribution of land banks, ganization agricultural acreage.24 Paper money, comand credit democratized extension created opportunities, and encouraged petition,unleashed the acquisitiveinstinct orderwhich ambition-all to a corrosives community personal to the valued continuity, and In addition solidarity, stability. thecolonies,for and economicchangesaffecting demographic gland's rivalrywith Spain and France erupted into open hostilities. The frontier of New York,New Encommunities were subject to enemyattacks.Prigland,and Pennsylvania of trade and profiteering skewednormalpatterns vateering the not colonies. and South Carolina were throughout Georgia but also felttherepercussions threats onlyexposedto military of slave unreststimulated to desert.25 by Spanish invitations The characteristic colonialsociety of 1700subordinated the individualto the groupand regulatedhis activities in accordance with traditional purposesusuallydefinedby the local churchor the rulingclass. Prosperity, new economicopporand the pressures tunities, immigration, populationgrowth, of war undermined efforts to perpetuatethissocial pattern. in establishments the South were unequal to the Religious taskof providingministers in the forthe new communities hinterland. theirnativereligiousaffiliarecreated Immigrants
24 Bushman, From Puritan to Yankee, 143; Lockridge, "Land, Population, and the Evolution of New England Society,1630-1790,"Past and Present, No. 39 (1968); Charles S. Grant, "Land Speculation and the Settlementof Kent, NEw ENGLAND XXVIII (1955); Michael Zuckerman,Peace1738-176o," QUARTERLY, able Kingdoms: New England Towns in the Eighteenth Century,New York, 89-91; and Lockridge,A New England Town, 145-146.Main, Social Struc1970o, ture of RevolutionaryAmerica, 16; Lemon, Best Poor Man's Country,86-89. 25 Howard H. Peckham, The Colonial Wars, 1689-1762(Chicago, 1964), 81155; Edelman, "Thomas Hancock"; Sachs, "Interurban Correspondents";Grant, Democracy in Kent, 6-9; Bushman, From Puritan to Yankee, 139-140; Aptheker, American Slave Revolts, 184; Johnsonand Sloan, Editors,South Carolina, 11o1i1. Arthur Pierce Middleton, "The Chesapeake Convoy System,1662-1763," William and Mary Quarterly,mi(1946).

eighteen of the twenty-four years between 1739 and 1763, En-



Withinthe established tionswithdelayand greatdifficulty.26 the changing churches natureof colonial lifepresented itself as a challenge.The one greateffort to reassert the religious focusof the community aroused such passionsthatits effect was moredisruptive of rethanameliorative. The succession
vivals which swept over the colonies between 1728 and 1741

weredirectedto bringing lives, people back to God-centered but in appealing to individualsensibilities, the GreatAwakThe dissension it arousedbredcontempt eningboomeranged. formuchofthechurch and natureof hierarchy, thevoluntary the conversion The afterauthority. experienceundermined math of the Awakeningwas an explicitrecognition of religiouspluralism.27 It is difficult to estimate therelativeimportance of thepurand in the the breakdown of the social contingent poseful order of seventeenth-century America. Our liberal historiographicalbias has led to an emphasisupon the purposive. no doubt encouragedmen Eighteenth-century opportunities and women to freethemselves fromthe restraint of family, churchand town government, but the accelerationof economic and population growthforcedfreedomupon others. There was no room in the established townsforthe surplus of the third fourth and population generations. Immigrants were cultural outsiders. Slaves and Indians were hostile
26 Richard J. Hooker, Editor, The Carolina Backcountryon the Eve of the Revolution; The Journal and Other Writingsof Charles Woodmason (Chapel Hill, 1953), 67-81; Smith, "Congregation, State and Denomination," 171-176; George M. Brydon,Virginia'sMother Church (Richmond, 1947),I, 127ff.; Wesley M. Gewehr,The GreatAwakeningin Virginia,1740-179o, 26-27 (Durham, North Carolina, 1930); and Joseph Henry Dubbs, "The Founding of the German Churches of Pennsylvania,"Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, (1893). xvI, 256ff. 27Edwin Gaustad, The Great Awakeningin New England (New York, 1957), 113-135; J. M. Bumsted, "Revivalism and Separatism in New England: The First Society of Norwich, Connecticut,as a Case Study," William and Mary Quarterly,xxIv, 6ooff.(1967); and "Religion, Finance, and Democracy in Massachusetts:The Town of Norton as a Case Study,"Journalof AmericanHistory, LVII,829-831 (1971); Perry Miller, "Jonathan Edwards' Sociology of the Great Awakening,"NEW ENGLANDQUARTERLY,XXI (1948); Leonard J. Trinterud, The Formingof an American Tradition: a Reexamination of Colonial Presbyterianism (Philadelphia, 1949), 71-98; and Bushman, From Puritan to Yankee, 235ff.



Whetherthe transformation of colonial groupsby definition. came about principally from consciouseffort or necessociety thehistorian mustweightheeffect saryadjustments, upon the of and the sensibilities, perceptions, expectations people who this grewup through period. The middle decades of the eighteenthcenturybrought to thepoliticalauthority and the deferential social challenges in thecolonies, structure createdchoicesofreligiousloyalties, of not belongingto a churchat all, includingthe possibility forced theprotective controlof theirfamiyoungadultsfrom lies, and added thousandsof black and white aliens to the nativepopulation.These changes, however,did not expand the range of personal opportunities. Neither vertical nor horizontalmobilityincreased with growthand prosperity as our knowledgeis of the exact duringtheseyears.Sketchy detailsof the distribution of wealth,severalstudiesindicate that the trendof the eighteenth was towardgreater century
economic stratification.As it became more difficultfor the

ment as independent farmers,artisans, and merchants were

coloniststo findpersonalmeaningthrough traditional social forindividualfulfillthe alternative institutions, possibilities

town foundingwere checkedby the hostile activity of the their French in the and Indian allies Northeast and Spanish, the southern frontier. As accumulated in the along capital handsof thewealthier in merchants the majorcolonial ports, chances forsuccessfor the unsponsored young man diminished.The landlessand disenfranchised populationin Boston
28 The decline in size of in the studies of agriculturalholdings is confirmed Lemon, Best Poor Man's Country,87-94; Lockridge, "Land, Population, and the Evolution of New England Society,1630-1790."Although risingland values could compensate for declining size of holdings, Lockridge argues persuasively that risingland values would have exacerbated the situation by making it more difficult for the landless to acquire land. See Stanley D. Dodge, "The Frontier of New England in the Seventeenthand Eighteenth Centuries and Its Significance in American History,"Michigan Academy of Sciences,Arts,and Letters

average over loo acres to less than 50.28 New opportunities for

The sizeoffarms in New Englandshrank from an decreasing.

Papers, xxviII (1942).



and Philadelphia grew throughoutthe century.29 Tenant increased in New New and York, farming England,Maryland, as areas into where the western farVirginia people pushed had patentedlarge tracts of land. The opsightedinvestors for to indentured servants portunity acquire land and assume civic responsibilities decreased ratherthan increased with time.3o Colonial society was becoming liberalized in the middle decadesof the century, but the prospect of becoming a fullyfreeman in that societywas conditionedby forces In an earliertimesome largelyoutside individualcontrol.31 thanothers, but fewwerefree people had had moreauthority fromthe restraints of the community. After1740 more colonistswerefreefrom authoritarian but theydid not restraints, have control over the decisive forcesin necessarily greater theirlives. Let us analyzethesocial structure of theAmerican colonies in forms of personalfreedom. There was not the tapestry of shaded ranks which European societypresented.Nor had colonial Americaproducedthe elaboratesocial usageswhich
29Main, Social Structureof Revolutionary America, 31-43, 44-46. Although Main argues that opportunities were great in revolutionaryAmerica, the morphologyof social structurehe develops would indicate that economic opportunitydecreased with the growth,complexityand wealth of America, as a result of the concentrationof wealth in urban areas, the conversionof some frontier areas to commercial farmingand the movementwestwardinto lands held by speculatorsor large absentee landlords. These implications are borne out by Henretta,"Economic Development and Social Structurein Colonial Boston"; Land, "Economic Base and Social Structure"; Gary Nash, Quakers and Politics, 321ff.; Lemon, "Urbanization and the Development of EighteenthCentury Southeastern Pennsylvania and Adjacent Delaware," William and "The Progressof Inequality Mary Quarterly,xxiv (1967); and Allan Kulikoff, in RevolutionaryBoston," Ibid., xxvIII, 381ff.(1971). 3oLand, "Economic Base and Social Structure"; Russell R. Menard, "From Servant to Freeholder: Status Mobility and PropertyAccumulation in Seventeenth-Century Maryland," William and Mary Quarterly, xxx (1973); Main, Social Structureof RevolutionaryAmerica, 45, 50, 61-65, 278-279; and Skaags, "Maryland's Impulse Toward Social Revolution." 31See Michael G. Kammen, "Essay Review: Intellectuals, Political Leadership, and Revolution," NEW ENGLAND QUARTERLY,XLI, 590ff. (1968) foran interesting suggestionabout unemployed intellectuals in revolutionarysituations. At the opposite extreme,forevidence of the increasein "idlers and vagabonds" on the frontier, see Hooker, Editor, The Carolina Backcountryon the Eve of the Revolution, 167-168.



ofverbal enabled an Englishman class toexercise a vocabulary fellow Butif distinction time he greeted a countryman. every thebreadth ofpersonal is usedas thegaugeofsocial freedom America offered a rangeof statuses distinctions, unique for itsextremes. The continuum at oneendwith the wouldbegin slavewhowasformally and informally ofall rights stripped will Next on thecontinuum the of a master. dependent upon was thewhite servant whosestatus was defined bycontracts Inhim or her to to personal service binding years. up seven dentured had legally to servants enforceable rights relating and freedom but dues, work, conditions, living punishments, theperson whoowned a servant's concontract couldexercise trolovera wholerangeof personal liberties dealingwith of selection of free and use friends, time, property, supervision ofbehavior. A. E. Smith hasestimated that between halfand two-thirds oftheseveral hundred ofthe thousand immigrants intoindentured either beentered service eighteenth century orafter their fore arrival in thecolonies.32 Nexttoindentured on thecontinuum servants ofpersonal freedom weredependent men who reached butdidnotpossess sons, young maturity a craft or a freehold which couldmakethem of independent their fathers' support. on thenumber ofdependent of sonsorthenumber Figures of theirdependency are difficult to establish. Several years contributed totheimportance ofthis factors, however, group. The demographic of rural of Maryland north society profile wasmarked andlarge Thismeant that bylongevity families.3" sonsin their late twenties stillin had livingfathers usually ofthefamily farms and that there wascompetition possession forland amongthe potential heirs.Recentscholarship has
4 to generalizeabout dependencytrends. made it difficult in one community Where fathers leftevidenceof controlling 32Smith,Colonists in Bondage, 336.
34 Compare for instance Greven with Demos, "Notes on Life in Plymouth Colony," William and Mary Quarterly,xxII (1965) and Linda Auwers Bissell, "From One Generation to Another: Mobility in Seventeenth-Century Windsor, xxxi (1974). Connecticut,"William and Mary Quarterly,

33 See note 13 above.



their children ofland,in othertowns through bequestsor gifts theaged parents'fearof neglectsuggests thatgrownsonshad of populaofmovement. The undulating cycles greatfreedom tiongrowth could affect thepersonalfreedom ofyoungpeople in two contrasting could stimulate ways.Population growth town plantingwhich might give migrating young couples from or their early independence parents, population pressurecould createa land scarcity whichinhibited youngpeople fromleavingthesecurity of a prospective sharein the family farm.35 The factremainsthat land resourcesof eighteenthAmericawerecontrolled or corporate century by proprietors and were decisions about land made bythe bodies, openingup oldergeneration. Despitetheapparenteconomicopportunity, offered a limitedrangeofself-supporting society preindustrial to men without and real property was essenland, occupations tial to personalfreedom defined botheconomically and politior twentycally. If the averagecolonistunder twenty-seven neither was he free. slave,norservant, eightwas neither This calibration ofpersonal might dependency appear as an elaborationof the obvious truththat societyinvolvessubordinationwere it not forthe factthatat the end of the continuumwere thousands of the freest individualsthe western worldhad everknown.These people werenotmembers ofan elite, but averagewhite men whose childhood,youth,and had paralleled the disruption of the previous,conmaturity servative social order.Neitherfamily, statenor churchcould claims upon them,for the termsof group lay fundamental short membershipin colonial life had become voluntary, wasin adumbrated form thequalitiesofa liberalsociety which described of a century so well three-quarters Tocqueville later: As socialconditions becomemoreequal, the number of persons increases are neither rich nor who, although they enough powerful
of Kent, 1738-1760," 35 ContrastGrant,"Land Speculation and the Settlement and Bushman,From Puritan to Yankee,83, with Lockridge,"Land, Population, and the Evolution of New England Society,1630-1790."

range, and unintrusive.Already in the 1760's and 1770's there



their havenevertheto exercise influence over fellows, any great and tosatisfy less or sufficient education fortune retained acquired owe to their ownwants. man, they nothing any expect They habit ofalways from the considerman;they nothing any acquire that as standing andthey areapttoimagine alone, ingthemselves their in whole is own hands.36 their destiny in If we can accept of thequalitative thispicture changes colonial before theRevolution, and can entertain the society socialrestraints idea thattheremoval of traditional would make topersonal offree andunfree thecategories crucial satisit is possible then toseehowBritish reforms faction, imperial couldbe viewed actsdemanding immediate as menacing and forceful The of these lies conjectures deep repudiation. proof in theconsciousness oftherevolutionary but the generation, of theirprotests offers someclues.Acceptance of language is to in Parliamentary authority repeatedly compared slavery of the thepolitical is Servile the 1760's. pamphlets description for ofsubjugation, accommodation. The imagery submission, andsubordination courses theliterature that marked through thewayto Independence. evoked the Stephen Hopkins prospect of slaveryin The Rights of Colonies Examined: "Libertyis the greatest blessingthatmen enjoy,and slaverythe
heaviest curse that human nature is capable of," explaining

lateron in his pamphletthat"thosewho are governed at the will ofanother, or ofothers, and whoseproperty maybe taken fromthemby taxes or otherwise withouttheirown consent and against their wills are in the miserable condition of His critic,Martin Howard, Jr.,answeredHopkins slaves.""37 witha statement of theconservative view of society: in lifehas its reciprocal connection duties;we knowthe every
relationbetweena parentand child,husband and wife, masterand
36Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America,Richard D. Heffner, Editor (New York, 1956), 194 (taken from Part II, Book Two of the original Henry Reeve translation). 37 Bernard Bailyn, Editor, Pamphlets of the American Revolution, 17501776 (Cambridge,Mass., 1965),I, 507-508.



and fromthenceare able to deduce theirrespective servant, obligations.3s

and JamesOtis' The Rightsof theBritishColoniesAsserted Proved."The people,"he asserted, "neverentrusted anybody of men witha powerto surrender in exchange [theirliberty] forslavery." an estateofman wasso vile and miserable Slavery thatOtis foundit hard to believe thatan Englishman would plead forit.s9 In his Summary Viewof theRightsofBritish America, Jeffersonclaimed that the series of oppressions by parliament and systematic "too plainlyprovea deliberate plan ofreducing us to slavery." Were theBritish to suceed,he said, parliament Americans would "suddenlybe foundthe slaves,not of one, but of 16o,oootyrants."40 theliberalBostonminister, wrotehis A Jonathan Mayhew, Discourse ConcerningUnlimitedSubmissionand Non-Resistanceto theHigherPowersto refute theorthodox religious for to His obedience argument authority. pamphletis an exeof"submission" and "subjection," but he gesison themeaning of slavery:"Resistancewas absolutely also used the imagery in orderto preserve thenationfrom necessary misery, slavery, and ruin"; "In plain English,thereseems to have been an thescepter and thesurplice impiousbargainstruck up betwixt forenslaving both thebodies and souls of men"; not to resist theEnglishking"would be to join withthesovereign in prothe and of the colonies,passiveobedimoting slavery misery" ence is a "slavishdoctrine," and disobeying thecivilpowersin certaincircumstances is "warrantable and glorious"if it in"A Letter from a Gentleman at Halifax," ibid., 534-535.9 Bailyn, Editor,Pamphlets ... ,477, 424, 434-435,429, 447, 439, 440 and 443Although this pamphlet appeared before Howard's "Letter froma Gentleman at Halifax," Otis did answer Howard with "A Vindication of the British Colonies, against the Aspersionsof the Halifax Gentleman," ibid. 40 Merrill Jensen, Editor, Tracts of the American Revolution: 1763-1776, Indianapolis, 1967,264-265.

in thecolonial fixed Buttheideaofslavery imagfirmly stayed ination. "enslave" "slavish," "Slavery," throughout appeared



from volved and"posterity servitude oneself freeing inglorious to andruin."41 the "servile" Writing judiprincipally protest theanonymous authorof cial tenure of "during pleasure," tothe that thecolonists Letter insisted PeopleofPennsylvania shouldprofit from whatthehistories of Europehad to say aboutthedesigns ofarbitrary for"quelling thespirit princes will." "If ofliberty andenslaving to their Charles their subjects with in order tointroduce andJames dispensed penalstatutes laws"in he colonial have said, governors, popery," suspended who with order tointroduce Those slavery." cooperated royal for officials a "slavishcondition" were "slaves"preparing Americans who"willbecome in no respect difslaves indeed, ferent from thesooty whose and Africans, persons properties oftheir masters."42 aresubject to thedisposal tyrannical that Church wasequally insistent awaited slavery Benjamin thecolonists. In Liberty andProperty he claimed Vindicated, that which thefreedom action should tendto promote "every of Britons and is mostnotoriously made use of to enslave he intoned nevermustbe slaves," plaguethem.""Britons tohisreaders tohistopic, that if recommended and,warming a man find they in any that theface ofthepoororthat conpost unjustly grinds toyour and if ask him to he it, tributes slavery, peaceably resign refuses a manner that he willbe gladto do to,usehimin such
for a quietlife.43 anything thatthe colonists had OxenbridgeThacherraisedthe specter shed theirblood in the Frenchand Indian war only "to bind the shacklesof slaveryon themselves and theirchildren.""' The author of The Constitutional Courant described the Stamp Act as a design to "change our freedomto slavery." "What thenis to be done?" he asked rhetorically. "Shall we sitdownquietly, while theyokeofslavery is wreathing about
41Bailyn, Editor,Pamphlets. .., 241, 245, 232, 222. 42Bailyn, Editor, Pamphlets..., 259, 269, 271, 272. 43Bailyn, Editor,Pamphlets ..., 592, 596. 44 The Sentimentsof a British American in Bailyn, Editor, Pamphlets... 490.



our necks?He thatis stupidenoughto plead forthis,"he an"deserves to be a slave." "What is a slave,but one who swered, will ofanother of his life the fortheenjoyment dependsupon and property?" The Englishparliament that"can layburdens upon us.. ." he warned,"can also, if theyplease, take our fromus, and orderus to be sold forslaves." whole property The fateof thecolonists "Let us notflatter will be unrelieved. thatwe shallbe happier, withmorelenity or treated ourselves, than our fellowslavesin Turkey."45 Far less radical than the authorof The Constitutional noneCourant, JohnDickinson, devoted the in last his a of Letters Farmer Penntheless, from thatawaited the colosylvaniato a discussionof the slavery nists.46 Even the young Alexander Hamilton found slavery themostappropriate "Were analogyforthecolonialsituation. not thedisadvantages of slavery too obvious to standin need ofit,"he declaimedin hisFull Vindication, "I might enumerate and describethe tedious trainof calamitiesinseparable from it." Appealingto farmers on thegrounds thatthey would be most oppressedin a country whereslaveryprevailed,he asked, "Are you willing,then to be slaves withouta single struggle?"47 John Adams as "Novanglus" put the case most "There are but twosorts ofmen in theworld,freesuccinctly: menand slaves.""The very definition of a freeman," he went on to explain,"is one who is bound byno law to whichhe has not consented."48 As the inheritors of the point of view expressedin these we often have been uncritical ofitsgenesis. no writings Surely one todaywould defendso stark an assertion as thatthereare only two sortsof men in the world,nor would the colonists' in the otherNew World colonies or in Eucontemporaries to slavery freedom therevorope have agreed.By contrasting lutionaries weregivingan absolutevalue to freedom whichit
phia, 1895),I, 397-406. 47 Henry Cabot Lodge, Editor, The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 19o4), 2nd ed., 1,15, 34-3548Jensen,Editor, Tracts of the American Revolution, 315-316.
48 Paul Leicester Ford, Editor, The Writingsof John Dickinson (Philadel-

45Jensen,Editor, Tracts of the American Revolution, 87, 82, 83, go, 89.



had notpreviously evenin theintellectual tradition possessed, from whichtheydrew.Our understanding of the Revolution in parthingesupon our capacity whatexperiences to discover would have promptedthis apocalypticattitudeabout freedom. Social upheaval by itselfdoes not produce radical notionsabout individualrights. One could guessthatthesocial occasionedby population pressures, instability high ratesof the of increased wartime use dislocations, slaves, immigration, and religiousrevivalswould cause a conservative reaction. recently Perhaps,on the otherhand, the individual energy freedfrom and restraint familial, congregational, community forliberalization thanreaction. rather suppliedtheforce Because law enforcement had always been weak in the coercionhad supplied colonies,community Anglo-American the social controlnormally exercisedby superiorauthorities. Local autonomy had servedgroup,not individualgoals, but the effectiveness of such a system of controldepended upon thecapacity of thelargersociety to createnew locales ofcomcontrolto keep pace withgrowth. munity Rapid and diversifiedpopulationgrowth The controversies strained thesystem. over the Great Awakeningundermined the consensualbasis for religiousdiscipline.Economic opportunity beckoned to theambitious. was American but society maturing, itsmaturation was not thatof the acorn,forthe oak had not yetbeen and economicgrowthof prefigured. Perhaps the prosperity the middle decades providedthe possibility of a new order whichwould minimizesocial controland maximizethe inIn sucha context, dividualambitofchoiceand responsibility. to threat the any generated by a liberalvisionof expectations could induce and society encourage violence. Such panic threats could also be widely acceptedas tyrannical, unjust,unnatural,and unacceptable.This, at least,is what the revolurhetoric was the prevailing tionary suggests response. Historiansof the AmericanRevolutionwho have devoted themselves to reconstructing thediscrete stepsthatled to "the seizureofpowerovera governmental apparatusbyone group from are understandably reluctant to see thecareful another,"



ofthelasttwodecadesofscholarship definitions disappearinto a quagmireof explanations whichrelymoreupon theories of than evidencesupporting a connectionbesocial psychology Their capactweenpresumptive cause and discernible effect.49 was to events demonstrated causes from ity disentangle prior himself again to the imrecently by JackGreene.Addressing of the ofGordonWood's assertion thattherhetoric plications AmericanRevolutionindicated"themostseveresortofsocial Greeneastutely betweenthemodernizastrain," distinguished tionofAmerican the American and Few society Revolution.50 would contendthat this modernization processwhich produced a sweepingsocial revolutionthroughout WesternEuin would not have America without a polititaken rope place cal breakfrom as Greenepointsout. However, GreatBritain, forpurposesof analysis thesetwo revolutions distinguishing is not the same as demonstrating thatcontemporaries experienced themas separateforces.Modernization is inseparable fromthe demographic and economicchangeswhich sapped the cohesionof the first colonial communities. The transformationofvalueswhichaccompanied theintrusion ofthemarketintosocialrelations can scarcely be distinguished from the liberal philosophy which foundexpressionin revolutionary rhetoric.One aspect of a change froman ascriptiveto an achievingbasis of social rankingis the anxietygeneratedby fearsabout one's personalaccess to avenues to achievement. Frenziedconcernforindividualliberty makeslittlesenseun49 Just how wide the parameters of social explanations for the American Revolution can be is demonstratedin Kenneth A. Lockridge, "Social Change and the Meaning of the American Revolution," Journal of Social History,vi (1973). The quoted phrase appears in Jack P. Greene, "The Social Origins of the American Revolution: An Evaluation and an Interpretation,"Political Science Quarterly,LXXXVIII, 19 (1973); it is fromJames Rule and Charles Tilly, "1830 and the Unnatural History of Revolution," Journal of Social Issues (forthcoming). 50Ibid., 4-5; see also Greene's "Search for Identity:An Interpretationof the AmerMeaning of Selected Patternsof Social Response in Eighteenth-Century ica," Journal of Social History,1II (1970); "William Knox's Explanation for the AmericanRevolution," William and Mary Quarterly,xxx (1973); and "An Uneasy Connection: An Analysis of the Preconditions of the American Revolution," in Stephen G. Kurtz and James H. Hutson, Editors,Essays on the American Revolution (Chapel Hill, 1973).



less the meaningof freedom is related to the specific social contextwhich gives it preeminent it is Even if importance. of colonial society would have agreedthatthemodernization continuedwithoutthe AmericanRevolution,can the converse be dismissed? Would the American Revolution have takenplace withoutthe tensions generated by social atomization and a spreading commercialism? Can we understand the revolutionwithout exploring how personal ambition was elevatedto a fundamental in Jefferson's modern right tellingly phrase"the pursuitofhappiness."