Breen’s research on the truly Revolutionary War

October 21, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: history, journalism, writers, writing.

Just how revolutionary was the American Revolutionary War?

Pretty revolutionary, according to historian T. H. Breen, who has written a recently-published book examining the thinking that went on behind the American colonies’ break with the mother country.

What we call the American Revolution cannot be linked to a single moment such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Rather, it was a gradual shift in popular thinking about the relation between ordi­nary people and government power. The revolution was a process, contin­gent and open—ended, a complex move from revolution to Revolution. The new men took charge of community affairs before they became revolutionaries, before most of them even openly advocated national independence. They were caught up by the sudden collapse of British authority outside a few major port cities. They learned on the job, gaining a measure of self­-confidence through the daily challenge of policing politically suspicious neighbors, recruiting Continental soldiers, overseeing the local militia, collecting taxes, and supplying soldiers with food and blankets. Source: The Slow Build Up to the American Revolution | Literary Hub

Government by the people — a concept we take for granted today — was not something that was widely thought of or necessarily popular in the eighteenth century. People needed a king, or some other God-given authority, to maintain a civil society.

The fact that King George III and the English Parliament were acting in such an obviously contrary way to the interests and desires of the colonists destroyed this foundation of authority.

Breen argues that the changing political situation eventually produced a “new political culture.”

The driving force behind the creation of a regime based on the will of the people can be found in the quotidian experiences of managing local affairs, of actually participating in a political system in which ordinary Americans found that they had to negotiate power with other ordinary Americans, people who insisted that they were as good as any other member of civil society, in essence discovering a powerful sense of mutual equality that remains the rhetorical foundation of our political culture. A government by the people was not something that the revolutionaries could take for granted; it had to be discovered and then reaffirmed by living through a challenging period of political change.

Breen’s book is The Will of the People. He has written an article in (The Slow Build Up to the American Revolution | Literary Hubthat outlines some of his arguments, and it is well worth the few minutes it takes to read it.

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