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Midterm Examples

In preparation for the final essays, below are some examples of midterm essays that answered the questions well. I have added a few comments at the end to highlight what is strong and what could be improved upon in the essays.

I. Compare and contrast different interpretations and methods related to the history of the American Revolution.

The American Revolution is one of those events in history that wasn’t caused by a single event, but the culmination of many smaller events that would help cause the breakout of war between the American colonist and the British. Historians writing about the American Revolution have many similar and different interpretations and methods which they use to show the mindset of the people during this time period and also to get a sense of why the events leading up to the American Revolution occurred and why the revolution itself occurred. The methods that are used by historians help to influence the ideas and interpretations they express in their writings. Historians such T.H. Breen, and Fred Anderson as you will see use similar and different methods in order to help show the causes of the Revolution.

One method that is commonly used by many historians when talking about the American Revolution is the use of sources written by and about the upper elites in America and in Britain. These include people like Washington, Jefferson, and members of the British upper class. These sources usually express their anger or protest to political and economic issues that have affected them and their fellow colonists because of the British authority. When historians use these types of sources in their articles they are using them and interpreting them to show that the revolution was caused by the British enforcement of harsh taxes and the taking away of their rights as British citizens. Fred Anderson in his article “Britain’s Victory Exposed the Need for Greater Control” although he doesn’t use American upper class and how they felt about the British policies, he does talk about the British upper class in the colonies who had to enforce strict laws on the colonists in order to establish control which would help increase the tension that was already building. He states “…that Amherst-soon to become Sir Jeffery, knight of the Bath-began in the name rationality and economy to reverse the openhanded policies that had produced such remarkable cooperation between the colonists and the empire and the Indians.”[1] Anderson uses this in order to show how British officials imposed their will upon the colonist which in turn angered many colonists. Anderson’s quote also shows a reason why many colonists may have took action against the British. This new and sudden change in policy towards the colonies helped to create strict and stubborn opposition to such new policies. The actions of a British official in colonial America like those of Amherst are being used by Anderson in order to show his interpretation of that in the quest for more control over the colonies the British had to enforce polices that many colonist didn’t like and because of these policies many colonist became enraged with the British after the French and Indian War. This anger would help build the tension between colonist and the British that would eventually lead to the protest and violence that would be used by the American colonist to the policies that were going to be put in place.

T.H. Breen in his book American Insurgents, American Patriots uses a different a different method of analysis toward the causes of the Revolution. Unlike Anderson, Breen uses the experiences and actions that were taken by the common people mostly those from the middle and lower classes. He does this in order to show his interpretation that the common people had just as big a role in the War of Independence as those famous upper class individuals such as Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, etc. Breen uses the experience and actions taken by a New Hampshire farmer Matthew Patten, his family and his small community who unlike many upper class patriots didn’t join the fight against the British for political or economic reasons, but for the sake of his own lifestyle and for the sake of him, his families and his communities livelihood. Breen in his book express the idea of the role of people like Patten, his family and his community when he writes, “Through the lens of Patten’s diary we witness insurgency in small scattered communities-communities that could not claim to have been the birthplace of a single celebrated Founding Father-evolving into a genuine war against Great Britain.”[2] Breen is saying in this quote is that the Founding Fathers although they had a major role in the revolution they didn’t do everything that was needed for the revolution to be successful. Breen is saying that what the Founding Fathers didn’t do was fight on the front lines during the war this was the job of many lower and middle class colonist that risked everything in order to fight for their way of life. Like Patten and the people of his community these people are usually overlooked and not given the credit they deserve because without them as Breen states throughout his book the Revolution would have never been possible let alone successful. Similarly like Anderson, Breen also has the interpretation in his book that the implementation of British policies on the colonies which was used by the British in order to take back control over the colonies was a major factor in the development of the revolution. When the British occupied Boston and were taxing the colonist on many of their imports and exports we can see their attempt to control the colonists and enforce their will upon them.  Breen shows how the people in local communities in and around Boston reacted to such attempts at control of the colonist when he writes, “Without a clearly defined command structure, thousands of anonymous farmers from small inland towns took the law into their own hands and within a short time had dismantled imperial authority outside Boston, now an occupied city surrounded by irregular forces.”[3] As we can see from Breen’s quote the attempts by the British to establish their control and dominance over the colonies lead many ordinary people to take action against the British. We can also see how Breen and Anderson although they are using two different methods to analyze the revolution they both have similar interpretations of the effects British attempt at control had on the colonists.

As you can see the works of Breen and Anderson are very important works when trying to figure out what happened to cause the Revolution and why the revolution was successful. The methods and interpretation used by both of these historians as you have seen are similar and different in certain ways. These interpretations and methods of analysis of the American Revolution used by these two authors allows us to see two distinct and contrasting views that can  help to show us the mindset of the colonists and the British during this time period and to give us a sense of why the events leading up to and during the revolution occurred.

Comments: While the thesis in the introduction could be more specific, the essay highlights the use of different sources and how that shapes interpretations of the Revolution well in the body of the essay. The body paragraphs could be broken up to enhance clarity.

[1] Fred Anderson, “Britain’s victory exposed the Need for Greater Control” in Major Problems in the Era of the American Revolution, 1760-179, ed. Richard D. Brown, Benjamin L. Carp, 3rd edition, Wadsworth, 2012, 54.

[2] T.H. Breen, American Insurgents, American Patriots, (New York, Hill and Wang, 2010), 9 .

[3] Breen, 87-88

Question IIa. Compare and contrast different methods used by the colonists to resist parliamentary reforms in the 1760s and 1770s.

Prior to the start of the American Revolution, there were different attitudes towards Parliament by the colonists about Parliament’s taxes. The founding fathers had taken a legal approach to file grievances against Parliament such as Washington’s letter of protest to Parliament about land restrictions. [1] Although George Washington had taken a legal approach ordinary colonists took matters into their own hands and used violence against Parliamentary proclamations and reforms. The colonist’s violent approach was more successful in the resistance of parliamentary reforms than legal rhetoric.

Legal rhetoric was the method that most founding fathers used to protest Parliament’s actions and reforms. They used the law to help their cause in resisting Parliament’s proclamations with the intention for parliament to reverse its policy. One example was the creation of the Stamp Act congress after the Stamp act was passed by Parliament. The act required all colonists to pay a tax on all printed-papers the colonists used including newspapers, playing cards and legal documents. The Stamp Act congress sent a petition to parliament outlining why the Stamp Act Congress was allowed to petition parliament as well as why parliament should rebuke the law.

In the petition, the Stamp Act congress wrote, “That his majesty’s subjects in these colonies are entitled to the same inherent rights and liberties as Natural born citizens of the United Kingdom…that it is the right of these colonies to petition the king or either house of parliament.”[2] The Congress asserted that citizens of British America were entitled to the same legal status as citizens born in the natural land of United Kingdom Proper. It was based on legal equality that they argued the Stamp Act was not legal since no one from the colonies had representation during the vote or passage of the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act Congress therefore claimed the colonists were taxed by their local legislature only and not by Parliament because the colonist had some say in their legislature. [3] The Petition along with its notion of legal equality was refuted when Parliament issued a statement in where it stated that Parliament’s rule was above all else and it is Parliament not the colonial legislature that will decide for the colonies. [4] Parliament’s statement refuted the notion of legal equality of Natural born citizens and British American colonists that led to British American colonists becoming second-class citizens in terms of legal equality.

Most colonies did not wait for Parliament’s reaction to the Stamp Act Congress to illustrate their displeasure. Many had felt like second-class citizens would the passing of the Stamp Act, which was why New York Colonist violently protested against the Act. The New York Colonists mobbed together, attacked the stamp collectors, and forced many stamp collectors to resign from office. [5] In this instance, Violence earned a greater result than legal rhetoric because the colonists were attacking Stamp Collectors and making them fearful of their position that ultimately led them to resign. If the Stamp Collectors resigned, there was no one to collect the tax so the violence in New York. Such chain of reactions helped the repeal of the Stamp Act One newspaper claimed ‘the decline of British influence in America may be dated from the repeal of the Stamp Act’.[6]

Violence conducted by the colonists was used as means to obtain a goal, like the protest of the Stamp Act along with the eventual removal of the Act. Another such example was the North Carolinian Regulators who had taken arms against the Royal Governor of North Carolina to protest corruption.[7] The Regulators had used violence with respect to British Tradition, which was a way of communication. [8]

Although colonial violence was critical to the protests of Parliament’s actions, it was not the only form of protest. There were several nonviolent protests such as boycotts and non-importations. One example was the Charleston merchants’ non-importation in1769. Nonviolence was instrumental in the protests to parliament as well but violence had played a bigger key than legal rhetoric. The Stamp Act Congress could not use legal rhetoric to make its case to Parliament as British Citizens while Colonial violence was what affected the British. The Declaration of Independence had occurred after the battles of Lexington and Concord and after the Boston Tea Party.

Comments: This essay has a specific and analytical thesis and is clearly organized to prove the argument. It could be strengthened by adding more examples to each section (legal and violent methods).

[1]George Washington to William Crawford, September [17] 1776. The Papers of George Washington; the colonial series, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig (Charolettesville) University of Virginia, 1993

[2] English Historical Documents Ed. David C Douglas (London, 1979), 9:642-73

[3] English Historical Documents

[4] Declaratory act, 1766, the statues at large… 1761 ed. Danby Pickering (London) 27:19-20

[5] David. Colden to the Commissioners of the stamp office, London Oct. 26 1765, the colden letter books, 1765-1775 vol. 2, collection of new York historical society [1877]: 50-52

[6] Breen, Chapter 2 p 62.

[7] Lee, Wayne E. Crowds And Soldiers In The Revolutionary North Carolina: The Culture of Violence In Riot And War (Gainesville): university press of Florida, 2001

[8] Lee

What does the insurgency look like in 1774? What issues are the colonists concerned about? What methods are they using? Examples? (in-class writing 10/1)

The insurgency in 1774 in the colonies took on a new fervor. After the Boston Tea Party in 1773, Parliament passed the series of laws that were the coercive laws which closed the port of Boston, put restrictions on free speech in town meetings among other things. People that were not paying too much attention to resistance to the Crown up until this point began to because they felt the punishment didn’t fit the crime, and that everyone shouldn’t be punished for something a small group did. By 1774, the insurgency was growing and communities and towns were taking a firmer approach on resisting parliament’s laws. In chapter 3, Breen discusses the countryside, and people/s displeasure in being considered a 2nd class citizen and growing military occupation.

Paper 2 (due Tuesday, 9/24)

Just wanted to remind you all that the next response paper is due before you come to class on Tuesday. Make sure you address the content of the sources you choose but also the context that is important for understanding them. Who is writing this? Who is the audience? What else is going on at the time? etc. And, make sure you include your ideas not just about the primary sources individually but also how they relate to one another.

Like the last paper, please use footnotes, double space, and include introduction and conclusion paragraphs. Email me with any questions.

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.

Who was Matthew Patten? Why do you think Breen includes his story in the introduction?

Hi all,

Below are two examples of good responses to the in-class writing prompt we did last week (Tu 9/3). Overall, everyone did a nice job and hit on the main points from the introduction that we talked about in class.

Example 1

Matthew Patten was a seemingly ordinary Irish-American immigrant who lived during the American Revolution. While Patten lived, worked, prayed, and thought in a typical American-colonial fashion, he was actually a complicated individual who transitioned from a disgruntled colonist to a full-on American revolutionary during the early stages of the fight for independence.

Breen may have chosen to write about Patten because of his humble, immigrant/agriculturalist roots. Though Matthew Patten seems like an insignificant figure–we definitely don’t find his name in popular history–he was nevertheless a key contributor to the “American cause.”

Example 2

Matthew Patten was a local farmer from one of the colonies who became a soldier for the patriots because of his belief that the British were unjust and unfair in their treatment of the American people in the thirteen colonies. The reason I think Matthew Patten is talked about in the intro is because when we think of the American Revolution we usually think of the famous people from this era such as Washington, Franklin and John Adams, but we don’t really think about the commoners that lived in the colonies who risked everything in order to end Britain’s rule over the Americans. Pattens diary shows how the average Joe of this time period reacted to the idea of revolution and how he was influenced into joining the cause. We see that Patten wasn’t all about the political issues that were reasons for others to join, but we see that Patten joined for the sake of his lifestyle and for the sake of his livelihood.