Theme: The United States and the World: American Foreign Relations
Topic: The Long Road to Lexington
Date: February 3, 2005
Scholar: Dane Morrison, Ph.D., Professor, Department of History, Salem State College
Overview | Required Reading | Reading Questions
Materials selected and syllabus created by Dane Morrison, Ph.D. Professor, Department of History, Salem State College ()
But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the Minds and hearts of the people . . . This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.
— John Adams, 1818
The meanings of the American Revolution, to both participants and their heirs, have been debated since the struggle began during the 1760s. Historians have yet to develop a definitive interpretation of the causes, development, and effects of this most important of American experiences. Was this essentially a political and constitutional crisis? A result of economic strains buckling the British Empire? An episode of rapid social and cultural change? And, at an even more basic level, we are left still with the fundamental questions: What was the American Revolution? What did it mean to participants on both sides of the Atlantic?
In this workshop, we will identify significant events as they unfolded during the 1760s and early 1770s—the resistance phase of revolutionary activity that led up to the Battles of Lexington and Concord. We will trace the efforts of British policy makers to tighten control over a vast, unwieldy empire and to resolve a desperate financial crisis by collecting much-needed revenues from their colonies. The policies designed to implement a restructuring
of the empire, however, were ill-designed, confusing and frightening virtually every important social and economic group in colonial society. The Proclamation of 1763, Sugar Act (1764), Stamp Act (1765), Declaratory Act (1766), Townshend Acts (1767), Tea Act (1770), and Coercive Acts (1774) both inflamed colonists’ anger and endangered their constitutional rights as British subjects. As colonists struggled to understand the what these changes in imperial
policy meant, the conventional wisdom formed around the idea that a conspiracy had formed at the highest levels of the British government to reduce the colonies to economic and political bondage. Their responses were varied—from the flight of Loyalists to Nova Scotia and
London, to the measured economic strategies of nonimportation and nonconsumption, to extra-legal mayhem in the Stamp Act Riots and Boston Tea Party. We will see how these events became markers on the ‘long road to Lexington and Concord.’ In this examination, we will
focus on the political and constitutional forces—what historian Bernard Bailyn describes as the explanations the colonists themselves gave—that worked to foment the American Revolution.
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Ferling. John. A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. (through [and including] Ch. 6)
Fischer, David Hackett. Paul Revere’s Ride. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. (“First Strokes: Thomas Gage, Paul Revere, and the Powder Alarms,” 44-64)
Primary (listed in order they appear in binder)
1.The Declaratory Act (Mar. 18, 1766)
2. The Association and Resolves of the New York Sons of Liberty (Dec. 15, 1773)
3. The Boston Tea Party: John Andrews to William Barrell (Nov. 29, Dec. 1, Dec. 18, 1773)
4. Boston Port Act (Mar. 31, 1774)
5. The Massachusetts Government Act (May 20, 1774)
6. Administration of Justice Act (May 20, 1774)
7. The Quartering Act (June 2, 1774)
8. The Quebec Act (June 22, 1774)
9. James Wilson, “Considerations on the Authority of Parliament” (Aug. 17, 1774)
(Listed below are the titles given to the required primary sources published in The American Revolutionaries: A History in Their Own Words, 1750-1800—note: the titles here are not the titles of the actual sources, but we list them as such to make your reading easier)
“We are not Bound to Yield Obedience” (Patrick Henry’s resolutions in response to Stamp Act)
“ Nothing Can Eradicate the Seeds of Liberty” (Benjamin Franklin’s warning to England’s political leaders)
“A Tea Party” (eyewitness account of the Boston Tea Party)
“You Damned Rebels” (Recollections of Lexington and Concord by a minuteman and a British lieutenant)
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1. What was the political culture of colonial America on the eve of the Revolution?
2. Why does historian John Ferling emphasize political forces in his interpretation of the causes of the Revolution, and why does he see the Revolution as a “leap in the dark?”
3. How would different groups of colonists—merchants, ministers, governors, craftsmen, farmers, sailors, slaves—have perceived the changes in imperial policy that began in 1763?
4. Why did many colonists come to believe there was a conspiracy by the King’s ministers to enslave American colonists?
5. How did radical Whigs in the American colonies go about organizing themselves into revolutionary groups?
6. How did leaders such as Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams use both the vocabulary of the assembly and the vocabulary of the street to foment revolutionary agitation?
7. Why does historian David Hackett Fischer see the inconsistencies in the thinking of General Thomas Gage as a measure of the problems Britain faced in bringing the American colonies in line with its changing policies?
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