This presidential address was delivered at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Washington, December 28, 1976. Published in the American Historical Review 82, no. 1 (January 1977): 1-19.

“We the People of the United States”: The Bicentennial of a People’s Revolution

“It is quite obvious,” said Richard M. Nixon in March 1976, “that there are certain inherently governmental actions which, if undertaken by the sovereign in protection of the interest of the nation’s security, are lawful but which, if undertaken by private persons are not.” Nixon was responding in writing to questions put to him by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, concerning alleged abuses of the executive power during his administration.1 That a former president of the United States should, during the course of the Bicentennial year, advance the notion that the executive is the sovereign seems not only ill-timed but curiously at variance with the principles for which the American Revolution was fought and upon which the Federal Constitution was framed. Gouverneur Morris, whose felicitous choice of the phrase “We the People of the United States” designated the people of the whole nation as the source of sovereignty, said of the president: “This Magistrate is not the King but the prime-Minister. The People are the King.”2 Morris was a better statesman than a prophet. He did not live to see the imperial presidency.

The Nixon commentary was of a piece with the attitude of the national government toward the commemoration of the Bicentennial. The two words most muted during the two hundredth year of American independence have been “people” and “revolution.” But government officials are not the only ones who are guilty of a benign neglect on this score. A recent massive treatment of the War for Independence has as its subtitle A People’s History of the American Revolution.3 Therein one might expect to find the focus shifted from the elite to the common people, to the private in the ranks and the civilian on the home front. Alas, we have good old-fashioned narrative history, often written with compelling power, but withal a traditional military and political account. One would have to search elsewhere in sources and monographs comparatively discrete to understand why this war was indeed a “people’s revolution,” to divine how ordinary people gave a distinct cast to what was an extraordinary event for its own time, and to comprehend why, after two centuries, the American Revolution can still inspire and admonish the American people.

To explain an epoch as complex as the American Revolution and to understand how a durable constitutional order evolved therefrom one must first recognize how so many aspects of the movement touched a popular chord. Mobilization of public opinion was central to the winning of a war for political independence which was at the same time the first successful effort in the modern era by a colonial people to sever an imperial connection with a great world power. Public sentiment clearly dictated the replacement of an unresponsive and corrupt monarchical system by a republic founded on public morality and, through the elective system and representative institutions, recognizing the sovereignty of the people.

If the American Revolution gave birth to a new nation, different from the nations of the Old World and destined to fix the direction of modern nationalism, its distinctive character was shaped in no small part by the enormous demographic changes in the two generations prior to the Revolution and by a popular culture which geographical separation, environmental factors, and sociocultural forces nurtured. It is a commonplace that out of the principal issue concerning the relation of colonies to metropolis the American Revolution forged an anticolonial principle, once central, later peripheral, but still troubling the American conscience. That principle was in obeisance to the sentiments of sovereign people on the move, giving reality to the paper boundaries drawn by the Peace of Paris in 1783. It was popular apprehension about the aggrandizement of power that prompted the promulgation of novel constitutional principles governing the relation of the state to the people, that recognized certain rights of the individual to be inherent, and that under the rubric of federalism imposed limitations on the authority of the central government. That other dimension of the American Revolution, a transforming egalitarianism, was manifest in the spirit of reform which characterized the American Revolutionary epoch and in the noteworthy degree of upward political mobility which was achieved.

The Founding Fathers never doubted the central role of the people in bringing about the final break with England. Time after time they felt impelled to pay obeisance to the people’s participation from the start of hostilities in order to refute customary Loyalist and British accusations that the break with the mother country resulted from a deep-rooted conspiracy of the leadership.4 That last point was so much “moonshine,” George Mason charged. Writing from Gunston Hall in 1778 to an English correspondent, the Virginian asserted:

There never was an idler or a falser Notion than that which the British Ministry have imposed upon the Nation “that this great Revolution has been the Work of a Faction, of a Junto of ambitious Men against the Sense of the People of America.” On the Contrary, nothing has been done without the Approbation of the People, who have indeed out run their Leaders; so that no capital Measure hath been adopted, until they called loudly for it: to any one who knows Mankind, there needs no greater Proof than the cordial Manner in which they have co-operated, and the Patience and Perseverence with which they have strugled under their Sufferings; which have been greater than you, at a Distance, can conceive, or I describe.5

So constant and so consistent was the Revolutionary elite in acknowledging the people’s indispensable role, in adopting the rhetoric of the transforming democratic radicalism of the American Revolution that, as one recent scholar sees it,6 the leadership contributed to its own political demise. By the last quarter of the twentieth century the common man had replaced the uncommon man in the nation’s leadership, a process that seems irreversible.

If the focus here is on the ordinary person of the American Revolution it is not from any intention to slight the role of the Patriot elite. Their concern with legality and constitutional principles, along with their sense of moderation, distinguished the American Revolution from almost all others to follow. Possessing a keen perception of the national interest, they made sure that a hoop encircled the barrel and bound the thirteen staves together. Their conviction that America had a unique role as a symbol of freedom gave the new nation the twin notions of mission and asylum–serving to render it distinctive among the states of the world.7

For almost two centuries now historians and editors have paid deference to the revolutionary leaders. Their virtues have been extolled, their faults exposed, their differences expatiated upon, their motives defended or impugned. Even their sex lives have been delved into and their psyches analyzed. Above all, their compulsive literary energies have inspired scholars to embark upon new, accurate, full, and erudite editions of their writings, a notable series of projects sponsored by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

And now it is the people’s turn. The generic term “people” encompasses all the inhabitants of the thirteen colonies, not even excluding the upper ranks of society whose roles have been so well publicized. It includes whites and blacks, men and women, slave and free. It encompasses the stout-hearted Patriot and the fair-weather Patriot. It embraces the Loyalists, or “Petticoat Gentry,” who, whether from conviction or expediency, made haste to tear up their wives’ underthings and affix a red ribbon to their hats. It includes fence-sitters or neutralists, and that final group that confounds all quantifiers–those who took oaths of loyalty to both sides.

For this paper “the people” of the Revolution is limited to the inhabitants who contributed to the decisions of revolution, change, and reform. This segment of the population comprises the free white males, mostly adults, who shared the Patriot viewpoint. As regards women, their part in maintaining morale was critical, and their vigilant mobilization against violators of nonimportation agreements, hoarders, and profiteers is a story by itself. Women were, however, excluded from the political process not only in America but everywhere, with New Jersey for a brief idiosyncratic period as a possible exception. Such exclusion accorded with the conventional view of male politicians. Thirty years after the start of the American Revolution, Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin had the presumption to suggest to President Thomas Jefferson that the latter might consider women for public service and elicited this sharp rejoinder: “The appointment of a woman to office is an innovation for which the public is not prepared, nor am I.”8

Second, Indians and blacks must also be excluded. Since the American revolutionaries fought for empire over the West as well as for their own freedom in the East, the Indian was regarded as being outside the constituency. Despite the theoretical commitment in the Declaration of Independence to the principle of equality and the antislavery convictions of certain northern Patriot leaders, blacks were usually not considered part of the constituency. They were not, and by the nature of their situation, could not be effectively recruited for the Patriot cause. Antislavery sentiment failed to prove a decisive factor in the contest for the loyalty of the Negro in the Revolution. Indeed it is doubtful that it could have overcome deep-seated resistance.9

Third, we must exclude the white bondsmen. They lacked that proof of independence normally regarded as a requisite to political activity. True, their status was temporary. But, excepting apprentices in the towns who participated in anti-British demonstrations,10 the indentured servants were not mobilized for the Revolution. Save in cases of bound servants gaining their freedom by enlistment, often over their masters’ vehement protests, the Revolution did nothing to end and little to ameliorate white bondage. What makes the point critical is that by the eve of the war, thanks to a rising wave of redemptioner immigration, to a substantial traffic in white convict servants, and to an expanding roll of judgment debtors sold into servitude, the number of white servants held by indenture for limited terms exceeded the totals for any other period in colonial history.11

Even with these exclusions we still have an impressive number of persons of whom the leadership had to take account. Consensus historians prefer to see this mass as bound together by middle-class aspirations, if not necessarily of the middle class themselves. One perceptive historian speaks of “a numerous, relatively aggressive, and largely enfranchised middle-class public.”12 True enough, America, lacking a titled aristocracy, offering a widely distributed freehold tenure, and occupied by a large English-speaking Protestant population, presented an image of homogeneity and classlessness. It is now recognized, however, that the assumption that America skipped the feudal stage of history, like other oversimplifications, conveys a partial truth, while ignoring or minimizing not only the remnants of feudalism still present in pre-Revolutionary America but even, as some historians now insist, an increasing feudalization or Europeanization of the American scene, a process productive of social tensions.13

Everywhere one finds inequality. Everywhere colonial society was divided into ranks or orders. Though affluence increased in the eighteenth century, so did poverty. While the standard of living of craftsmen, small shopkeepers, and laborers improved, their position vis-à-vis the more prosperous merchants deteriorated. In selected rural areas the same disparity was found.14 The poorest taxpayers in the two generations preceding the Revolution enjoyed a continued rise in income while suffering a declining share of the assessed taxable wealth.15 Retrospectively such disparities in income between the top and bottom ranks seem the inevitable result of the vast expansion of commercial farming and large-scale commerce. Even in New England, land of subsistence farming, population growth significantly decreased the land available per person and contributed to economic polarization.16 To compound the antagonism between ranks in society, an amorphous body of free-floating workers, unwelcome in many cases, sharing a common poverty, now posed an increasing problem to an urban society which was slowly assuming some of the characteristics of modernization, with its spreading commercialism, occupational specialization, and social atomization.17

In essence, whether we are considering the assumptions of present-day historians, divided on the significance of urban poverty in the pre-Revolutionary period, or examining the testimony of contemporaries, the prospect depends on the eye of the beholder. Where Crèvecoeur saw the American dwelling in a climate of “pleasing equality,”18 John Day, a Nova Scotia merchant who spent a good deal of time in the other North Atlantic port cities, pictured a “rising aristocracy” and a “numerous vagrant poor.”19

Admittedly, the American Revolution did not witness an uprising of the sans-culottes like that of France some years later. It is hard to make out of it a class struggle, when the very term “class” did not yet enjoy wide currency.20 Notwithstanding, the attachment to the cause of revolution by the lower and middling orders, as they were then known, was central both to its initiation and its ultimate success. These orders were distinguished from their “betters” by dress, and often, too, by speech, manners, and habits. M’Fingal might jeer at “each leather-aproned dunce grown wise,” a point of view shared by many who wore silks and velvets, covered their heads with powdered wigs, wore silver-buckled shoes, and rode in chaises. What surprised them more often than not was how the “village Hampden” and the “mute inglorious Milton” made their discontent known, though deemed to be inarticulate. Their use of songs, jigs, and toasts, of effigies, parades, and demonstrations, even of mobbing and tarring and feathering proved that the inarticulate were by no means mute.21 Neither literary correspondents nor diarists, careless in preserving farm and account books, they wrote the stories of their lives in baptismal registers and on gravestones, in the court records, the deeds and wills, the inventories of estates, the assessment, tax, and tithable rolls, the militia lists, and in countless newspaper notices placed by craftsmen, shopkeepers, and owners of runaway servants.

United only in resenting privilege, the lower ranks of society voiced different grievances in different areas. In interior Massachusetts the court system and the aggrandizement of power by the justices of the peace aroused their ire.22 In Vermont, New York, and the Jerseys, New York patentees, manor lords, or the Jersey proprietors blocked the settlers’ quest for fee-simple lands.23 Pennsylvania found frontiersmen arrayed against the Eastern inhabitants, while the back country regulators of the Carolinas registered protests against regressive taxation, unequal representation, inequitable or inadequate justice,24 and in the southern towns white mechanics joined to limit the employment of slaves in the handicraft trades.25

The severe social strains which so many members of the lower orders experienced, while perhaps accounting for some of the frenzied rhetoric of the period,26 failed to unite all the aggrieved, if disparate, groups in support of independence. Contrariwise, where landlords happened to be stout Whigs, tenants understandably became Tories. Imperial measures aroused the seaboard from end to end, while the frontier remained sharply divided in allegiance. It is not a fictitious unity of the aggrieved inhabitants that is relevant to the Revolution, but rather the evidence that the various movements they began, to eliminate inequities in society, gathered strength and thereby defined the reform goals of the Revolution.

If a large segment of the lower orders in rural areas defected from the Patriot cause, the reverse was true of towns wherein the action was centered. With few exceptions, the town mechanics, laborers, and seamen were either involved in the pre-Revolutionary agitation or were swept up into the Revolution. When we use the word “mechanics” we are employing a catchall covering anyone who worked with his hands, including master artisans and journeymen wage-earners (tomorrow’s master mechanics) and, even more broadly, comprehending all groups below the ranks of merchants and lawyers. Ranging from skilled and creative silversmiths and cabinetmakers to common laborers and cartmen, from master craftsmen who owned their shops and employed journeymen and apprentices to the unskilled dock workers, the “mechanics,” with their families, made up a respectable segment of the inhabitants of the major Revolutionary ports and of the smaller towns.27 Like the Parisian sans-culottes, they were “the people . . . without the frosting.”28 Masters or journeymen mechanics, like so many other people of the lower and middling orders, they did not exclusively identify themselves with a single category or regard their status as permanent, any more than the American worker does at the present time.29

In the towns the Revolutionary movement drew its strength from the “crowd” or the “mob,” depending on whether one views the political actions as purposeful and disciplined or lawless and subject to manipulation, with most modern and contemporary scholars taking the former view.30 If not manipulated, the crowd clearly shared the political principles of its leaders who endorsed the contemporary radical Whig ideology, stressing constitutional rights and political liberty. Beyond that one detects among the lower orders an oft-voiced bias against wealth and privilege,31 along with something of that “moral economy” which a current student of mass behavior finds to have informed crowd action in England.32 On this side of the ocean, food riots and demonstrations against engrossers and price-fixing violators attest to the transplantation of some of these values.33 Perhaps the most sensational incident occurred in Philadelphia well on in the war, when an inflamed populace attacked “Fort Wilson,” James Wilson’s residence and refuge for a group of his republican merchant friends commonly believed to have manipulated the price of goods.34

It may be straining the evidence to establish a genealogical nexus between components of crowds that rioted against smallpox inoculations, protested grain shortages, and tore down brothels. On the other hand, the impressment riots mobilized seamen, dock-workers, and the entire maritime industry against the Royal Navy and helped cement the alliance between maritime workers and merchant shippers against customs and naval authorities, an alliance so fateful in its consequences.35 In other trades as well, labor’s grievances against employers over work and wages were submerged as both sides found common cause in resisting British policies.36

Remote as historians of today are from the violent temper of pre-Revolutionary times, it is indubitably easier for us to view these mounting demonstrations with a detachment understandably lacking among the victims of mobbism. Henry Laurens suffered a visitation by a crowd during the Stamp Act furor and castigated the Sons of Liberty “Devil Burners” of Charleston as a “Mob” which had “committed unbounded acts of Licentiousness and at length Burglary and Robbery.”37 Some time later, when he had become a true-blue Patriot, Laurens was accused by Daniel Moore, the customs collector, of raising “a Mob” against him. “No such thing as Mobbing was ever thought of,” Laurens protested. The crowd that surrounded the king’s officer did nothing worse than threaten to cut off his ears!38

The participation of the mechanics had a profound effect upon the commitment of the leading towns toward the Revolution and helped radicalize the movement of imperial protest. Henceforth leaders like John Jay, who were conciliatory on principle but activist by temperament, recognized the signals and joined the revolutionary current.39

The crowd action that propelled the American towns along the road to independence has been examined so often that the sequence of events in which the crowd participated against British measures hardly needs an accounting.40 From the Stamp Act riots to the Boston Tea Party, a logical progression of crowd demonstrations responded to British programs and policies. Behind crowd action one uncovers an elaborate Patriot infrastructure facilitated by the unities of everyday life in preindustrial American towns.41 Boston, for example, found radical operations shared by the Loyal Nine, both genesis and executive committee of the Sons of Liberty, the three area Caucus Clubs, and assemblages at favorite meeting places–taverns, a distillery, and a newspaper office. The radical network linked artisans and mechanics, the church, the Boston town meeting, and the provincial council and assembly. At the center functioned the ubiquitous Samuel Adams, and around him the crowd leaders like Ebenezer Mackintosh.

Outside the towns, where the sanctions of the crowd did not reach, the militia provided a lever to move public opinion. With all its deficiencies, the militia posed to each able-bodied male a commitment of loyalty, thereby helping to politicize communities as well as individuals. As one historian has remarked, “firearms were great levelers, and the use of them by ordinary men against established authority was in itself enough to generate leveling thoughts.”42

Together, popular assemblages and the militia recruited a broad-based support for revolution. Without such support the leadership never could have carried the day for independence, even allowing for the French alliance and British incompetence. In fact, demands for independence rose from the grass roots, and leaders, even Samuel Adams, reflected popular sentiment quite as much as they encouraged it.43 On May 1, 1776, Joseph Hawley could write Elbridge Gerry: “For God’s sake, let there be a full revolution, or all has been done in vain. Independence and a well planned continental government will save us.”44 When, nine days later, the Massachusetts House of Representatives put the question of independence to the towns,45 the response of the inhabitants was emphatic. So mighty was the torrent of instructions and resolutions that poured forth from the towns and so various were the reasons vouchsafed for independence, that it would be straining the evidence to attribute these opinions to elitist leaders, however much the initiative had remained with the Boston Committee of Correspondence.46 “Every Post and every Day rolls in upon us,” said John Adams. “Independence like a Torrent.”47 Since popular-based support was not confined to Massachusetts, elsewhere decisions were made by large bodies of inhabitants assembled in town, county, or provincial meetings and responsive to public opinion. The reverse was of course true in Britain.48

How town meetings and county conventions were transformed into mass meetings of the “Body of the People” is the story of the way in which royal government was supplanted by extralegal bodies representing “the people,” “the community,” or “a majority of the community.”49 That story has a twofold significance. First, its telling is essential to an understanding of the formation of the Union; and second, the central role of the people transformed the American Revolution from a war for independence into a broad-based movement of change and reform.

As for the constitutional aspect of popular sovereignty, the record shows that selection of delegates to the First and Second Continental Congresses occurred largely outside the colonial legislative bodies. Selection was accomplished in different ways–by revolutionary committees, by the polling of freeholders, or by elections by illegal assemblies and revolutionary conventions. The use of conventions, so important in mobilizing public opinion not only during the war but in the years preceding Shays’ Rebellion,50 may have been modeled upon English usage in the seventeenth century, and the American example was closely followed by British reformers like James Burgh and the followers of Wyvill.51

In part, these extralegal methods of registering the public’s will may have been fortuitous; in part, they sprang from the necessities of the revolutionary situation. The selection of delegates to the First Congress took place in the spring and summer of 1774 after the adjournment of the regular winter meeting of most colonial assemblies. Unless the colonial governors summoned special legislative sessions, the assemblies could not convene or act. To fill this vacuum of power, popular or revolutionary bodies chose a majority of the delegations to Congress. In fact, only four out of the twelve colonies represented in the First Continental Congress used their regular assemblies to elect delegates, and two of these bodies were extralegal.

Elsewhere I have detailed the steps by which the First and Second Continental Congresses were constituted and their respective relations to the colonies and the states.52 Because the methods used to select delegates to both Congresses are crucial to our understanding of the forging of the union as well as popular sovereignty, I shall make these points here very briefly. For picking delegates to the First Congress, the speaker rather than the governor called the assembly into session in Delaware; in Massachusetts Bay, the General Court held its session, openly defying the governor. Only in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island did regular assemblies elect delegates to the Congress without interference from their respective governors, and both were exceptional colonies. One was proprietary, the other self-governing–and in neither did the royal government exercise control over the convening of the legislature. With scrupulous attention to a choice of words, in formal resolutions after assembling, delegates to the First Congress described themselves as being appointed or elected “by the good people of the several colonies,” and their secretary, Philadelphia’s popular Whig leader Charles Thomson, underscored “good people.”53 The evidence demonstrating that selection of delegates to the First Congress occurred largely outside the colonial legislative bodies supports Joseph Story’s contention that the Continental Congress was organized “with the consent of the people acting directly in their primary sovereign capacity,” and reminds us that there was something more than the ritualistic rhetoric of the nationalists to his claim that the union was “spontaneously formed by the people of the United Colonies.”54

Confident that its actions would find strong popular support and acting with less divisiveness than has traditionally been attributed to it,55 the First Congress, as one of its concluding actions in October 1774, called for a successor Congress to convene on May 10, 1775. The instructions went out to all “the Colonies, in North-America” to choose deputies, with a separate appeal “to the Inhabitants of the Province of Quebec,” urging them “to unite with us in the social compact.” They were instructed to elect, at town and district meetings, deputies to a provincial congress, which in turn would choose delegates to the Congress at Philadelphia.56 The procedure was extralegal, if not subversive, and involved a series of popular acts in open defiance of authority. This time around the delegates from the thirteen colonies were chosen during the winter and early spring when most provincial assemblies were holding their regular sessions. Anticipating that the crown-appointed governors would prorogue the assemblies rather than permit them to partake in the election process, the people in eight of the colonies chose their delegates through extralegal assemblies or conventions.57

As the authority of royal governors and colonial assemblies disintegrated and the upstart revolutionary congresses or conventions pointedly ignored both branches,58 the Second Congress filled the continuing power vacuum by assuming the initiative in establishing revolutionary governments in the colonies and ultimately transforming them into states. Meanwhile, extralegal committees of public safety, patterned after the revolutionary committees in England during the Puritan Revolution and in the American colonies during the upheavals of 1689, assumed the direction of the revolutionary movement in several colonies. On July 18, 1775, the Continental Congress recommended that those colonies lacking such committees set them up to direct their defenses while the assemblies or conventions were in recess.59 In some five colonies, committees of safety were established on Congress’s initiative, and by 1777 every state had one.60

Not only did Congress turn to the people to set up a continental-wide revolutionary machinery, but it also took the lead in issuing a call to the people of the colonies to organize state governments, first on an ad hoc basis,61 and, at length and in response to public opinion, it made this practice formal. On May 15, 1776, Congress issued its justifiably renowned resolution urging assemblies and conventions, “where no Government sufficient to the Exigencies of their affairs hath been hitherto established, to adopt such Government as shall, in the Opinion of the Representatives of the People, best conduce to the happiness and Safety of their Constituents in particular, and America in General.”62

The twin processes–the election of delegates to the two Congresses and the procedures for framing state constitutions under Congressional directive–set loose a torrent of assertions that the people were the constituent power.63 Some urged direct election of the delegates to Congress by “the freeholders, or freemen at large.”64 Others, like the “Mechanicks of New York City,” insisted that the decision “to accept or reject a Constitution” was the “birthright of every man” who “is, or ought to be, a co-legislator with all the other members of that community.”65 To explain to a French visitor the convention and ratification procedures which produced the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, Samuel Adams, voicing sentiments found in a declaration of the Massachusetts General Court in 1776 that “power resides always in the body of the people,” pointed out that far more than the necessary two-thirds vote endorsed the Constitution, thus proving that “the true sovereign are the people.”66

In adopting the Declaration of Independence, an act of paramount, sovereign authority, Congress acted for the people rather than for thirteen separate states, since only four state governments, three of them provisional, had been formed prior to its passage. Jefferson’s felicitous phrasing described “one people” as dissolving the political bands connecting them with another, affirmed that governments derived “their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and proclaimed “the right of the people” to alter or abolish “a government destructive of the ends set forth.” Good Whig rhetoric or political reality? The United States Supreme Court thought it was the latter. Members of the first Court, who–one might say–were present at the creation, characterized the Great Declaration as the act of the “whole people,” one which transferred sovereignty “from the crown of Great Britain” to “the people.” Chief Justice Jay, who never went back to Philadelphia to sign the document that New York’s delegates had been originally enjoined from endorsing, might, if pressed, have conceded that the “whole people” excluded the substantial segment opposed to independence.67 Then as now, one might add, the High Court demonstrated at times an uninhibited facility to generalize about complex issues in constitutional history. In the period of congressional government, running from September 1774 to March 1, 1781, prior to the Articles of Confederation, the Supreme Court perceived Congress as exercising powers derived from the people, expressly conferred through the medium of state conventions or legislatures, and, once exercised, “impliedly ratified by the acquiescence and obedience of the people.”68

In sum, a review of the historical evidence makes abundantly clear that the Supreme Court accepted the rhetoric while recognizing the reality of the process whereby the United States was created by the people in collectivity, rather than by the individual states. The process of selecting the delegates for the First and Second Congresses underscores the revolutionary role of the people of the colonies in establishing a central governing body. Congress alone possessed those attributes of external sovereignty which entitled it to be called a state in the international sense, while the separate states, exercising a limited or internal sovereignty, may rightly be considered a creation of the Continental Congress, which preceded them and brought them into being.69

Without the attachment of a substantial body of the people to the cause of independence, that goal could not have been achieved, nor could the union have been forged, if it had not rested upon a national consensus.70 Indubitably, the elite leadership recognized the urgency of establishing a national character. John Jay did more than coin a phrase when he observed in 1797: “I wish to see our people more Americanized, if I may use that expression; until we feel and act as an independent nation, we shall always suffer from foreign intrigue.”71 If emerging nationalism depended primarily on a political consensus,72 then the boycotts, protest movements, and the élan generated in fighting for independence heralded the emergence of a distinctive American culture.73 From the first, Dr. David Ram say understood the springs of young America’s cultural nationalism.74 This sense of national purpose and uniqueness moved the common man, albeit with misgivings, to support a Constitution, whose ratification under a broad suffrage was so joyfully greeted by working-class people in every city in the land. With the aspirations of the common man in mind, we may see the Constitution, which assured the survival of a federal union, not as a counter-revolutionary event, but as part of the revolutionary process which had enlisted the energies and loyalties of masses of plain men and women for more than two decades.75

In the face of an impressive body of evidence of social tension and of mounting pressures to end inequities between ranks and regions, consensus historians still deny that the American Revolution was a rising of the masses against their oppressors.76 Nobody today seriously argues that an internal war over who should rule at home was fought between the propertyless masses and the privileged minority. Property was too widely distributed or the expectation of possessing it too broadly held for society to divide over this issue. In fact, despite their many differences, the people did unite in a common cause. What unified the discordant elements of the Patriot populace was the conviction that only through independence could they build a free society. What informed their common purpose was a republican ideology that recognized the people as the constituent power. To fill the vacuum of governmental authority which the act of revolution created, it was necessary to build a new political structure both for the thirteen states and for the nation. In the ensuing series of experiments in constitution-making and legislation, a people, liberated from the strictures of the old colonial order, began an era of innovation unprecedented in that day and age.77

The constitutions of the states embodied safeguards for civil liberties, checks upon executive usurpation, frequent elections, rotation in office, and other limits upon power, and in at least one state what amounted to manhood suffrage. Framers of these laws and constitutions were forced to confront long-standing inequities which had aroused the populace for different reasons and in different areas. Impressive strides were made in correcting the inequitable representation of the interior and upcountry. States moved the burdens from poor to rich or from debtor to creditor either by issuing copious amounts of paper currency while postponing taxes necessary to support it–a lesson some of our modern cities seem to have mastered–or by overhauling the tax structure, shifting from polls to property, or from equal acreage to ad valorem taxes. The reformers made perfectly clear that they wanted these tax reforms to strike at the power “in the hands of the rich and chief men exercised to the oppression of the poor.”78 Small wonder that a troubled Landon Carter or a perturbed Charles Carroll of Carrollton should voice fears that the reforms proposed in their respective states would result in a government “independent of the rich men” and clearly “levelling” in their aims.79 Since taxation precipitated the American Revolution, it is understandable that the colonial tax structure should be overhauled when Britain no longer ruled.80

In a society overwhelmingly agrarian, land was the measure of wealth and opportunity. A reformation of real-property law to curb monopolies and encourage equality was seen by Jefferson to be essential to reform. Jefferson’s real-property reforms were at the very least a symbolic blow against a class-structured society, a blow emulated in most of the thirteen states, while it achieved a liquidity of assets which an indebted planter class so desperately needed. England waited until 1925 to pass the Real Property Act and thereby reach the point to which Jefferson had brought Virginia by 1776.81 That gap of one hundred and fifty years marks the contrast between a society that achieved democracy by a revolution and one that reached it by glacial stages.

Confiscation of Loyalist estates, carried out in America with far more rigor than was to be the case in France,82 enlarged the freeholding class. Granted that the initial purpose of forfeitures was fiscal rather than social, evidence suggests that rural holdings were extensively subdivided–immediately by exercise of pre-emption rights by tenants on large estates or later by purchases from speculators. The long-range effect of the program was indubitably egalitarian.83

If those targeted for confiscation proved to be landowners so imprudent as to have chosen the wrong side in the war, instead of all the big landowners, evidence exists that huge land monopolies were anathema to some Patriot reformers. Loyalists warned against the leveling that would follow independence. The best evidence was a provision in the draft Constitution of 1776 for Pennsylvania which the radicals were unable to have incorporated in the final document. It warned that “an enormous Proportion of Property vested in a few Individuals is dangerous to the Rights, and destructive of the Common Happiness of Mankind; and therefore every free State hath a Right by its Laws to discourage the Posesssion of such Property.”84 Rejected or not, this principle governed the seizure of the proprietary lands in Pennsylvania. “It was taken from the Proprietarys, not in a way of confiscation,” one correspondent reminded Lady Juliana Penn in the summer of 1782, “but upon principle of policy and expedience. . . . They thought the estate two [sic] large for a subject to possess, supposing it dangerous to the public that so much property should rest in the hand of one family.”85

In doubling the territory of the new United States, the Peace of Paris directly contributed to the process of democratization which was already under way in America, and held out a vision of boundless resources which only recent circumstances have forced Americans to modify. Vast unoccupied lands were now available to war veterans, landless New Englanders, and speculators. Consider that, from a population of some twenty-five thousand on the eve of the Revolution, the area west of the mountains increased fivefold in less than seven years. Settlement of the West proved perhaps to be the most important social movement to emerge from the American Revolution. This migration of the dissatisfied tempered frustrations and reduced social tensions. To the extent that the westward movement incorporated notions of squatter sovereignty, the borderers invested their settlements with decided social overtones.86

No review of the socioeconomic dimension of the American Revolution can afford to ignore the wartime debtor-creditor confrontation between tobacco planters and English and Scottish merchants. Many Virginians, as George Mason reminded Patrick Henry, fought the war to get rid of these debts.87 If the British creditors were tenacious in pressing the besieged government at home for their pound of flesh, the American debtors employed every legal dodge to evade payment. This brought a swarm of hornets about the ears of the federal court judges, their repeated decisions in favor of creditors notwithstanding. As minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain, Chief Justice Jay found it expedient to strip the Supreme Court of final jurisdiction over such issues, and the treaty which bears his name permitted appeals to a mixed commission. The United States would assume payments for all debts validated by the commission. Thereby many debtors managed to socialize their debts, even though the government succeeded in scaling down its obligations. The issue of the planters’ debts is perhaps the best example of how the Revolution redistributed liabilities rather than assets.88

The case for significant social change during the Revolution still needs to be made. One could point to the insolvency laws, to the democratization of education, and to church disestablishment and religious liberty legislation. Indubitably, reform in these diverse categories helped create a more egalitarian and pluralistic society.

In no area is the social effect of the American Revolution more visible than in the opportunities for new men to enter government, business, and the professions. The Revolution brought all the “dregs” to the top, complained a Philadelphia grandee.89 Some who enjoyed a precipitous rise capitalized on the special opportunities the Revolution afforded in privateering, war manufacturing, and provisioning, on the new trade patterns resulting from the war, and on speculative opportunities provided by wartime and postwar inflation. A large body of statistical evidence is now available to show how state legislatures were altered to the advantage of newly settled areas and of men of less-established families. Statistics document some displacement of the old colonial “upper” class.”90 James Madison, without benefit of a computer, had long before reached this same conclusion. In his Sixty-second Federalist he stressed “the mutability in the public councils,” which he attributed to “a rapid succession of new members.” “Every new election in the States,” he said “is found to change one half of the representatives.”

The biographical record also demonstrates how the Revolutionary War brought a transformation in politics, business, and the professions. Consider that populist prototype, the New Yorker Abraham Yates, Jr., always an object of venom among the Federalists, who reserved for him choice epithets ranging from the “late cobbler of laws and old shoes” to “an old booby.” Apprenticed to a shoemaker, he became a lawyer, and as sheriff allied himself with Robert Livingston, Jr. in the skirmishes against the so-called tenant rebels. A central figure in putting the new state government into operation, he proved both in Congress and in the state legislature an unreconstructed anti-Federalist. Or take the Irish redemptioner Matthew Lyon, whose pugnacity, enterprise, and leadership (not to speak of an influential second marriage) elevated him within a decade after war’s end to an established position in his region, even if his affluence failed to render some of his coarser habits acceptable. That orphaned backwoodsman Andrew Jackson, who would spend more time on horseracing and cockfighting than on Blackstone, was admitted to practice in 1788 after two years of haphazard tutelage, adjudged by the court to be “a person of unblemished moral character, and competent . . . [in] knowledge of the law.” And why not Henry Clay? That barefoot boy of the Slashes in old Hanover was left by his mother at the age of fifteen in the office of the Virginia Court of Chancery. As he recalled it, he started his practice in Lexington in 1797 “without patrons, without favor or countenance of the great or opulent [and] without the means of paying my weekly board.” Jackson’s and Clay’s was a vastly different era from the prewar years. A transformed society had spawned a new breed of professionals and politicians.91

A people’s revolution achieved more than independence and nationhood. It brought new men to power, raised people’s political aspirations, made the new governments of the Revolution more responsive to social inequities, and underpinned the notion of the sovereign people as the constituent power, of which the Preamble of the Federal Constitution is the most eloquent affirmation.

Richard B. Morris (July 24, 1904–March 3, 1989) was an American historian specializing in colonial American legal history and the early history of American labor. He was the Gouverneur Morris Professor of History at Columbia University.



  1. New York Times, March 12, 1976, 14:2. []
  2. C. C. Tansill, comp., Documents Illustrative of the Formation of the Union of the American States (Washington, 1927). []
  3. Page Smith, A New Age Begins: A People’s History of the American Revolution (2 vols., New York, 1976). []
  4. Among others, John Jay, for example, felt impelled to deny, as late as December 1775, that the Continental Congress aimed at independence. “Proofs that the Colonies Do Not Aim at Independence” [Philadelphia, after December 11, 1775], in Richard B. Morris et al., eds., John Jay: The Making of a Revolutionary, Unpublished Papers, 1745-1780 (New York, 1975), 198-201. []
  5. George Mason to [Mr. —- Brent?], October 2, 1778, in Robert A. Rutland, ed., The Papers of George Mason, 1725-1792 (Chapel Hill, 1970), 1:435. []
  6. Gordon S. Wood, “The Democratization of Mind in the American Revolution,” in Leadership in the American Revolution, Library of Congress Symposia on the American Revolution (Washington, 1974), 84. []
  7. See my Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries (New York, 1975); “The American Dream Among Nations–What Promise? What Fulfillment?” in America at 200, Foreign Policy Association, Headline Series, number 227 (New York, 1975), 3-35. []
  8. Thomas Jefferson to the Secretary of the Treasury, January 13, 1807, in Paul Leicester Ford, ed., Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1892-99), 9:7. See also Joan Hoff Wilson, “The Illusion of Change: Women and the American Revolution,” in Alfred F. Young, ed., The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism (DeKalb, Ill., 1976), 383-445. []
  9. The view of Winthrop D. Jordan, White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812 (Chapel Hill, 1968), 342, 244, that the success of antislavery in the last quarter of the eighteenth century was almost within reach is controverted by David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1820 (Ithaca, 1975), 255-57, and Edmund S. Morgan, “Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox,” Journal of American History 59 (1972): 6. For the role of blacks in the Revolution, see Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution (Chapel Hill, 1961), 111-57; George H. Moore, “Historical Notes on the Employment of Negroes in the American Army of the Revolution,” Magazine of History, with Notes and Queries, No. 1 (1907); Richard B. Morris, The American Revolution Reconsidered (New York, 1967), 72-76. For the unfulfilled expectations of some black Tory refugees, see G. Halliburton, “The Nova Scotia Settlers of 1792,” Sierra Leone Studies, N. S., No. 9 (December 1957): 16-25; Anthony Kirk-Greene, “David George: The Nova Scotia Experience,” Sierra Leone Studies, N. S., No. 14 (December 1960): 93-120. []
  10. Dirk Hoerder, “Boston Leaders and Boston Crowds, 1765-1776,” in Young, ed., The American Revolution, 242, 248. For apprentices in the Philadelphia militia, see Eric Foner, Tom Paine and Revolutionary America (New York, 1976), 65, 126. []
  11. See Richard B. Morris, Government and Labor in Early America (New York, 1946), 147-49, 314 n., 326, 362-63. The indentured servants were increasingly concentrated in rural areas, while towns like Boston were suffering a relatively rapid decline in immigration. James A. Henretta, “Economic Development and Social Structure in Colonial Boston,” WMQ, 3d ser., 22 (1965): 83. In Philadelphia and its environs, the importation of German and Scotch-Irish redemptioners recommenced at the end of the Seven Years’ War, while slave imports declined. Gary B. Nash, “Slaves and Slaveowners in Colonial Philadelphia,” WMQ, 3d ser., 30 (1973), 223-56. Nevertheless, it is estimated that slaves and servants together of working age declined from 21 percent of Philadelphia’s population (1767) to 16 percent (1775) and 5.5 percent (1783). []
  12. Richard Hofstadter, America at 1750: A Social Portrait (New York, 1971), 131-33. []
  13. Richard B. Morris, The American Revolution Reconsidered (New York, 1965), 60-65; Rowland Berthoff and John M. Murrin, “Feudalism, Communalism, and the Yeoman Freeholder: The American Revolution Considered as a Social Accident,” in Stephen G. Kurtz and James H. Hutson, eds., Essays on the American Revolution (Chapel Hill, 1973), 256-88; Jack P. Greene, “The Social Origins of the American Revolution: An Evaluation and Interpretation,” PSQ, 88 (1973): 1-22; Kenneth A. Lockridge, “Social Change and the Meaning of the American Revolution,” Journal of Social History, 6 (1972-73): 403-59. For the argument that so far as New York was concerned, the neofeudal trappings of the great manors had little meaning by the mid-eighteenth century, see Sung Bok Kim, “A New Look at the Great Landlords of Eighteenth-Century New York,” WMQ, 3d ser., 27 (1970): 581-614; Patricia U. Bonomi, A Factious People: Politics and Society in Colonial New York (New York, 1971), 196-200. For a re-evaluation of the impact of quitrents in one royal colony, see Alan D. Watson, “The Quitrent System in Royal South Carolina,” WMQ, 3d ser., 33 (1976): 183-211. []
  14. See Henretta, “Economic Development and Social Structure,” 75-92; Allan Kulikoff, “Progress of Inequality in Revolutionary Boston,” WMQ, 3d ser., 28 (1971): 375-413. []
  15. See James T. Lemon and Gary B. Nash, “The Distribution of Wealth in Eighteenth-Century America: A Century of Change in Chester County, Pennsylvania, 1693-1782,” Journal of Social History, 2, No. 1 (1968): 1-24. For the view that the small man’s economic position advanced in eighteenth-century Virginia, see Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery-American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York, 1975), 338-46. []
  16. Kenneth A. Lockridge, “Land, Population, and the Evolution of New England Society, 1630-1790,” Past and Present, 39 (1968): 62-80. []
  17. Gary B. Nash, “Poverty and Poor Relief in Pre-Revolutionary Philadelphia,” WMQ, 3d ser., 33 (1976): 3-30. []
  18. Michael Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur, Letters from An American Farmer (London, 1782), Letter III. []
  19. Jack P. Greene, “Social Structure and Political Behavior in Revolutionary America: John Day’s Remarks on American Affairs (London, May 7, 1774),” WMQ, 3d ser., 32 (1975): 481-94. []
  20. The Oxford English Dictionary lists a use of “class” in the sense of “orders” of society as early as 1656, but it was not in common currency for well over a century. See also Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, 1780-1950 (New York, 1960), xii. []
  21. See Jesse Lemisch and John K. Alexander, “The White Oaks, Jack Tar, and the Concept of the ‘Inarticulate’,” WMQ, 3d ser., 29 (1972): 109-34. []
  22. John M. Murrin, “The Legal Transformation,” in Stanley N. Katz, ed., Colonial America: Essays in Politics and Social Development (Boston, 1971), 415-49. []
  23. See Edward Countryman, “Out of the Bounds of the Law: Northern Land Riots in the Eighteenth Century,” in Young, ed., The American Revolution, 39-69; Marvin L. Michael Key, “The North Carolina Regulation, 1766-1776: A Class Conflict,” ibid., 73-123. []
  24. See, e.g., Key, ibid.; Robert A. Becker, “Revolution and Reform: An Interpretation of Southern Taxation, 1763 to 1783,” WMQ, 3d ser., 32 (1975): 417-42. []
  25. Morris, Government and Labor, 184-86. []
  26. This is an argument in Gordon S. Wood, “Rhetoric and Reality in the American Revolution,” WMQ, 3d ser., 23 (1966): 3-32. The extent to which religious revivalism in the colonial interior infected the rhetoric of the time is suggestively treated by Rhys Isaac, “Preachers and Patriots: Popular Culture in Revolutionary Virginia,” in Young, ed., The American Revolution, 125-54. []
  27. See Staughton Lynd and Alfred F. Young, “After Carl Becker: The Mechanics in New York City Politics, 1774-1801,” Labor History, 5 (1964): 215-24. The Philadelphia mechanics were mainly independent entrepreneurs, according to Charles S. Olton, Artisans for Independence: Philadelphia Mechanics and the American Revolution (Syracuse, 1975), 38. In Philadelphia the tools alone which master mechanics possessed seemed to constitute sufficient property for most to qualify for the suffrage. Ibid., 51, 52. See also David Montgomery, “The Working Class of the Pre-Industrial City, 1780-1830,” Labor History, 9 (1968): 5; Roger J. Champagne, “Liberty Boys and Mechanics of New York City, 1764-1774,” Labor History, 8 (1967): 124, 125. For estimates of the working-class population, see Carl Bridenbaugh, Cities in Revolt: Urban Life in America, 1743-1776 (New York, 1955), 283; Benjamin W. Labaree, Patriots and Partisans: The Merchants of Newburyport, 1764-1815 (Cambridge, Mass., 1962), 4-5. For the enlistment of master ship carpenters in the nonimportation movement, see James H. Hutson, “An Investigation of the Inarticulate: Philadelphia’s ‘White Oaks’,” WMQ, 3d ser., 28 (1971), 3-25. []
  28. R. R. Palmer, “Popular Democracy in the French Revolution: Review Article,” French Historical Studies, I (1960): 453. []
  29. For a comment on Lyndon B. Johnson’s characteristic assumption of pluralist thought as regards class or occupation, see Doris Kearns, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (New York, 1976), 156, 157. []
  30. For the former view of English and continental crowd action, see George Rudé, The Crowd in History, 1730-1848 (New York, 1964), 52 ff. A similar view of the American revolutionary crowd is found in Bernard Bailyn, ed., Pamphlets of the American Revolution, 1750-1776 (Cambridge, Mass., 1965- ), 1:581-83, 740 n., and in Pauline Maier, From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776 (New York, 1974). A dissenting view of Hiller B. Zobel, The Boston Massacre (New York, 1970) has been vigorously criticized by Jesse Lemisch, review article in Harvard Law Review, 84 (1970): 485-504, and by Pauline Maier, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 2 (1971): 119-35. []
  31. Dirk Hoerder, “Boston Leaders and Boston Crowds, 1765-1776,” in Young, ed., American Revolution. []
  32. E. P. Thompson, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present, 50 (1971): 76-136. []
  33. For the grass-roots support for price-fixing in the Revolution, see Morris, Government and Labor, 127-32. See also Ronald Hoffman, “The ‘Disaffected’ in the Revolutionary South,” in Young, ed., American Revolution, 282, 298. []
  34. See, e.g., John K. Alexander, “The Fort Wilson Incident: A Case Study of the Revolutionary Crowd,” WMQ, 3d ser., 31 (1974): 589-612. []
  35. See Jesse Lemisch. “The Radicalism of the Inarticulate: Merchant Seamen in the Politics of America,” in Alfred F. Young, ed., Dissent: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism (DeKalb, Ill., 1968), 39-82. Richard M. Brown, “Violence in the American Revolution,” in Kurtz and Hutson, eds., Essays on the American Revolution, 66, has identified seventeen Boston riots out of thirty anti-British demonstrations that were directed against customs enforcement and six over impressment by the Royal Navy. []
  36. Morris, Government and Labor, 188-93. []
  37. Henry Laurens to Joseph Brown, October 22, 1765, in George C. Rogers, Jr., and David R. Chesnutt, eds., The Papers of Henry Laurens, 5 vols. (Columbia, S.C., 1968- ), 5:27; Laurens to James Grant, November 1, 1765, ibid., 39, 40. []
  38. Laurens to Ross and Mill, October 8, 1767, ibid., 339-41. []
  39. See Letter of the Committee of Sixty to the New Haven Committee, April 17, 1775, in Morris, ed., John Jay, 143-44. []
  40. The Sons of Liberty and Sons of Neptune, which prepared the early organization and mobilization of the crowd, have been studied by, among others, Henry B. Dawson, The Sons of Liberty in New York (New York. 1859); Herbert M. Morais, “The Sons of Liberty in New York,” in Richard B. Morris, ed., The Era of the American Revolution (New York, 1939); Roger J. Champagne, “New York Radicals and the Coming of Independence,” Journal of American History, 51 (1964): 21-40; Richard Walsh, Charleston’s Sons of Liberty: A Study of the Artisans, 1763-1789 (Columbia, S.C., 1959). []
  41. See Sam Bass Warner, Jr., The Private City: Philadelphia in Three Periods of Its Growth (Philadelphia, 1968), 24. []
  42. Morgan, American Slavery-American Freedom, 379; John Shy, A People Numerous and Armed (New York, 1976), 218, 220; Daniel J. Boorstin, The Americans: The Colonial Experience (New York, 1958), 345, 372. []
  43. Pauline Maier, “Coming to Terms with Samuel Adams,” AHR, 81 (1976): 12-37. []
  44. Joseph Hawley to Elbridge Gerry, May 1, 1776, in James T. Austin, Life of Elbridge Gerry (Boston, 1828-1829), 1:175-76. For the role of the Committee of Privates, a group of extreme radicals in the Pennsylvania militia, see Olton, Artisans for Independence, 74. []
  45. Peter Force, ed., American Archives: Fourth Series, Containing a Documentary History of the English Colonies in North America, from the King’s Message to Parliament, of March 7, 1774, to the Declaration of Independence by the United States (6 vols., Washington, 1837-46), 6:420. []
  46. See, e.g., Instructions of Malden, May 27; Scituate, June 4; Resolve of Natick, June 20, 1776, Massachusetts Archives, lib. 156:fols. 101, 103, 113. See also Richard D. Brown, Revolutionary Politics in Massachusetts: The Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Towns, 1772-1774 (Cambridge, Mass., 1970), 95-99, 208. []
  47. John Adams to James Warren, May 20, 1776, “Warren-Adams Letters,” Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections, 72 (1917): 249-51. []
  48. For the popular response in Philadelphia, see John J. Zimmerman, “Charles Thomson, ‘The Sam Adams of Philadelphia’,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 45, No. 3 (1958): 464-80; for Charleston, see Walsh, Charleston’s Sons of Liberty. See Ian R. Christie and Benjamin W. Labaree, Empire or Independence, 1770-1776: A British-American Dialogue on the Coming of the American Revolution (New York, 1976). []
  49. G. B. Warden, Boston, 1689-1776 (Boston, 1970), 218-19; Brown, “Violence in the American Revolution,” in Kurtz and Hutson, eds., Essays on the American Revolution, 108 ff.; Thad W. Tate, “The Social Contract in America. 1774-1787: Revolutionary Theory as a Conservative Instrument,” WMQ, 3d ser., 22 (1965): 375-91. []
  50. Morris, Government and Labor, 117-18; Richard B. Morris, “Insurrection in Massachusetts,” in Daniel Aaron, ed., America in Crisis: Fourteen Crucial Episodes in American History (New York. 1952), 28, 29. []
  51. Arthur Sheps, “The American Revolution and the Transformation of English Republicanism,” Historical Reflections, 2 (Summer 1975): 16. []
  52. Richard B. Morris, “The Forging of the Union Reconsidered: A Historical Refutation of State Sovereignty Over Seabeds,” Columbia Law, Review, 74 (1974): Appendix at 1091-93. []
  53. Worthington C. Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 (34 vols., Washington, 1904-37) 1:66 (October 14, 1774). []
  54. Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (3d ed., Boston, 1858), 1:138, 142. []
  55. Sec David Ammerman, In the Common Cause: American Response to the Coercive Acts of 1774 (New York, 1976). []
  56. Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1:102 (October 22, 1774); 105, 112 (October 26, 1774). []
  57. For a criticism of the rump character of some of the extralegal elections, see “The Censor,” an unidentified Philadelphia newspaper. March 5, 1776, in Force, ed., American Archives: Fourth Series, 5:71-72. []
  58. For an informed review of this transitional period of governmental authority at the colony level, see Merrill Jensen. The Founding of a Nation: A History of the American Revolution, 1763-1776 (New York, 1968), 508-34. []
  59. Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, 2:187-90. []
  60. Ibid. See also Agnes Hunt, The Provincial Committees of Safety of the American Revolution (Cleveland, 1904), 159-65. []
  61. For the authorizations to New Hampshire and South Carolina, see Jere R. Daniell, Experiment in Republicanism: New Hampshire Politics and the American Revolution, 1741-1794 (Cambridge, Mass., 1970), 106-12; Edward McCrady, The History of South Carolina in the Revolution, 1775-1780 (New York, 1901), 110, 115, 235. []
  62. Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, 4:342. The resolve was voted on May 10: the preamble, written by John Adams, was adopted five days later, ibid., at 357-58. See Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, Lyman H. Butterfield et al., eds. (Cambridge, Mass., 1961), 3:335n., 382-86. []
  63. See especially R. R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution, A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800: The Challenge (Princeton, 1959), pp. 213-28. []
  64. Force, ed., American Archives: Fifth Series, Containing a Documentary History of the United States of America from the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, to the Definitive Treaty of Peace with Great Britain, September 3, 1783 (3 vols., Washington, 1848-53), 2:113-14 (September 1776). []
  65. Ibid., Fourth Series, 6:895 (June 14, 1776). []
  66. François Jean, Marquis de Chastellux, Travels in North America, in the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782, J. Kent, trans. (London, 1787), 1:268 ff. See also Oscar and Mary Handlin, eds., The Popular Sources of Political Authority. Documents on the Massachusetts Convention of 1780 (Cambridge, Mass., 1966), esp. 51-53. []
  67. Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U. S. (2 Dall.) 419, 470-71 (1793). []
  68. Ware v. Hylton, 3 U. S. (3 Dall.) 199, 232 (1796), (per Chase, J.). See also Penhallow v. Doane, 3 U. S. (3 Dall.) 54, 80, 90-94, 109-12, 117 (1795), (per Paterson, J.). []
  69. Morris, “The Forging of the Union Reconsidered,” 1088-89. []
  70. This point is argued by Edmund S. Morgan, “The American Revolution: Was There ‘A People’?,” The New York Review of Books, July 15, 1976. []
  71. John Jay to Colonel John Trumbull, Albany, October 27, 1797, (ALS advertised in American Book Prices Catalogue, 1897), in Henry P. Johnston, ed., The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay (New York, 1893), 4:232. []
  72. See Yehoshua Arieli, Individualism and Nationalism in American Ideology (Cambridge, Mass., 1964), pp. 22, 23. []
  73. Most recently, this thesis has been argued by Kenneth Silverman, A Cultural History of the American Revolution (New York, 1976). []
  74. David Ramsay, History of the American Revolution (London, 1793), 2:315 ff. []
  75. Morris, The American Revolution Reconsidered, 162. See, more recently, Olton, Artisans for Independence, 120. []
  76. Edmund S. Morgan, “Conflict and Consensus in the American Revolution,” in Kurtz and Hutson, eds., Essays on the American Revolution, 289-309. []
  77. See Edward Countryman, “The Problem of the Early American Crowd,” Journal of American Studies, 7 (1973): 88-89, with suggestive leads to localized studies. []
  78. “Instructions to the Delegates from Mecklenburg to the Provincial Congress at Halifax in November, 1776,” William L. Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina (10 vols., Raleigh, 1968), 10:870a-870f. []
  79. Landon Garter to George Washington, May 9, 1776, in Force, ed., American Archives: Fourth Series, 6:390. []
  80. See Robert A. Becker, “Revolution and Reform: An Interpretation of Southern Taxation, 1763 to 1783,” WMQ, 3d ser., 32 (1975): 417-42; for Maryland, Hoffman, “The ‘Disaffected’,” in Young, ed., American Revolution, 280-82, 307-08. []
  81. Richard B. Morris, Studies in the History of American Law (New York, 1930), 123, 124. For a perceptive critique of the thesis of C. Ray Keim (“Primogeniture and Entail in Colonial Virginia,” WMQ, 3d ser., 25 [1968]: 585-86), see Berthoff and Muffin, “Feudalism, Communalism, and the Yeoman Freeholder,” in Kurtz and Hutson, eds., Essays on the American Revolution, p. 283n. For a New Englander’s affirmative evaluation of the egalitarian impact of partible descent and the abolition of entails, see Timothy Picketing to Charles Tillinghast, December 24, 1787, Massachusetts Historical Society, Proceedings, 5 (1862): 413. []
  82. See Georges Lefebvre, The Coming of the French Revolution, trans. by R. R. Palmer (Princeton, 1947), 134, 135. []
  83. Compare Beatrice G. Reubens, “Pre-Emptive Rights in the Disposition of a Confiscated Estate: Pittsburgh Manor, New York,” WMQ, 22 (1965): 435-56; Catherine S. Crary, “Forfeited Loyalist Land in the Western District of New York: Albany and Tryon Counties,” New York History, 35 (1954): 329-58; Richard D. Brown, “The Confiscation and Disposition of Loyalists’ Estates in Suffolk County, Massachusetts,” WMQ, 3d ser., 21 (1964): 549. []
  84. The Proceedings Relative to the Calling of the Conventions of 1776 and 1790 (Harrisburg, 1825), 54-57. See also Eric Foner, Tom Paine, 133. []
  85. James Tilghman to Lady Juliana Penn, Chester Town, Maryland, August 14, 1782, Shelburne Papers, 72:311, W. L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. []
  86. See Francis S. Philbrick, The Rise of the West, 1754-1830 (New York, 1965), 99. []
  87. George Mason to Patrick Henry, May 6, 1783, in William W. Henry, Patrick Henry: Life, Correspondence, and Speeches (New York, 1891), 2:187. []
  88. See Richard B. Morris, John Jay, the Nation, and the Court (Boston, 1967), 73-97. []
  89. “Diary of James Allen, Esq., of Philadelphia, Counsellor at Law, 1770-1778,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 9 (1885): 192. []
  90. Jackson Turner Main, “Government by the People: The American Revolution and the Democratization of the Legislatures,” WMQ, 3d ser., 23 (1966): 391-407; The Upper House in Revolutionary America, 1763-1788 (Madison, Wisc., 1968); Political Parties Before the Constitution (Chapel Hill, 1973), for the lower house. See also James Kirby Martin, Men in Rebellion: Higher Governmental Leaders and the Coming of the American Revolution (New Brunswick, N. J., 1973), 195-96. For the advance of the common man in Philadelphia office-holding, see Olton, Artisans for Independence, 80. []
  91. Alfred F. Young, The Democratic Republicans of New York: The Origins, 1763-1797 (Chapel Hill, 1967), 44, 45; Anton-Hermann Chroust, The Rise of the Legal Profession in America (Norman, Okla., 1965), 2:38; Calvin Colden, ed., The Life, Correspondence and Speeches of Henry Clay (New York, 1857), 1:29; Aleine Austin, “Matthew Lyon, New Man of the Democratic Revolution: His Early Career, 1749-1801” (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1970). []