Daily Archives: September 19, 2013

Paper 1 Examples

Below are a couple of examples of the first paper that I think did a nice job in terms of highlighting the main ideas of the article and keeping the writing concise and clearly organized. (I have not edited them or included any comments.)

Worlds of Goods In The Northern Colonies

The document “Worlds of Goods In The Northern Colonies” gives the reader a unique insight into the lives of British American colonists.  It challenges the idea of the “self-sufficient” farming colonists, and shows the part colonists played in the consumer revolution.  When one thinks of the households and marketplaces of pre-independent America, the concept of humbly living off the land often comes to mind.  In T.H. Breen’s essay, however, the reader is presented an entirely different perspective on the matter.  Through the numerous historical examples provided throughout the document, the monumental influence that foreign goods had on all of the colonies is made clear.

Breen goes on to prove how dependent on the motherland these early Americans were by drawing conclusions concerning how vital these imported goods were to the foundation of their society, “consumer goods provided socially mobile Americans with boundary markers, an increasingly recognized way to distinguish betters from they inferiors.”[1]  To be able to determine the hierarchy of the various social classes of an otherwise equally modest society would enable large-scale and fast economic growth.  This is so because the constant struggle to prove one’s worth was a strong motivator for trade.  Consequently, as the higher, more prosperous classes brought more and more unique, foreign, and expensive goods into their homes, their lessers spent what money they could on similar luxuries. “Poorer colonists aped their social betters, just as wealthy Americans mimicked English gentlemen. However slowly these new tastes may have been communicated, they eventually reached even the lowest levels of society.”[2]

The colonists became increasingly eager to stay on top of the latest trends and newest products from Britain.  The more imports they bought from the motherland, the more goods they needed to supply for exporting, in order to pay for it all.  The marketing business between them grew to be a sort of integration, which would lead to an uprising sense of personal identity for the colonists. “One could plausibly argue that, by exposing colonists to this world of consumer choice, the British reinforced the Americans’ already strong conviction of their own personal independence.”[3]  As individuals gained feelings of self-worth, the “widely dispersed [colonies]… develope[d] a sense of their own common cultural identity”.[4]

Seeing that the pre-revolution “middling” Americans were not as self-sufficient as some might believe is key when it comes to understanding exactly how the desire to be free from the ruling of the crown began.  T.H. Breen uses particular stories from the mid 1700’s, along with historical artifacts such as shop ledgers and printed advertisements to illustrate a different perspective on how influential the consumer revolution was on the fundamental causes of America’s fight for independence.

[1] Breen, T.H., “Worlds of Goods in the Northern Colonies” pg 99

[2] Breen, pg 96

[3] Breen, pg 97

[4] Breen, pg 99

World of Goods in the Northern Colonies written by T.H. Breen

This article is Breen’s attempt at taking a fresh look at the pre revolution dynamic between Colonial America and the English Motherland. He structures his paper by stating the main problem that arises before one can take a fresh look. He moves on to explain the arguments against this problem. He then introduces his idea of the consumer revolution that took place prior to the war of Independence.  This idea actually supports the notion that colonial America was more a part of the British Empire then a rogue colony.

Breen first wants to negate the widely held myth that colonists were completely self-sufficient. As he put it “This is the theme of patriotic mythology” (pg94), this is the idea colonists found a plot of land and built their lives purely on hard work and sweat. This idea he states is the number 1 problem to overcome before one can look at this dynamic in a new way. He disproves this by explaining there is actually little historical evidence to support this beyond stories of folklore.  In fact most evidence points to the contrary.

This brings us to Breens approach of the consumer economy in understanding the Anglo-American dynamic. His argument is that colonists actually encouraging and demanding a consumer based economy based on British goods. He is completely opposed to the economically self –sufficient idea and favors the model of codependency, “American buyers became more dependent on British suppliers, the British business community became more dependent on the colonial market.”(pg95) He supports his argument using several primary sources including merchant’s personal journals, personal letters, and laws evoked at the time (peddlers required licenses) , petitions to courts, and merchant ledger books.  Several accounts he cites are of Europeans in the colonies that stress any good they would want back home could be found in the colonies. The demand for consumer good only grew some reasons being cost efficiency, aesthetic value, entertainment, good became social markers. It grew so tremendously he even goes as far as to say “Staffordshire pottery might be seen as the Coca-Cola of the eighteenth century.”(pg99)

This Consumer society had larger ramifications in terms of the Anglo-American dynamics. This market dependency actually drove the colony closer to England. It was becoming more and more integrated into the British Empire via consumer goods. This again in opposition the notion that prior to the revolution we were less and less identifying as British. Market evidence shows us that British goods were actually the gold standard and was preferred to local made goods. In terms of revolutionary attitude Breen is showing that non really existed. The contrary was actually the case meaning the Crown had to do very little to keep the support of the colony for the market of the empire kept the colonists very loyal. “So long as the king of England ruled over an empire of goods, his task was relatively easy.”(pg100)

In conclusion Breen used the consumer market to analyze pre revolution America. I took his work to show that the colony was very happy and willingly integrated into the British Empire as a whole. The colonists were prosperous and happy “and in 1763 he could not comprehend why anyone would want to upset a system that seemed to operate so well.” This analysis leads me to believe that a sudden disruption the consumer market would be a major cause of a change in the attitude of colonists from loyal subjects to rebellious insurgents.