The First Revolutions

The First Revolutions: In the Minds of the People

My opening discussion provides a fact-based correction for an interpretation of the American Revolution that became orthodoxy in the mid-20th century. This faux history rested on the easily refuted ideas that America’s patriots were civic humanists and that the insurgency they conducted was a reform movement underpinned by high moral convictions.

Placeman John Wilkes of London, England launched the first revolution in the minds of the people in the early-1760s. He is relevant to my narrative because Sam Adams borrowed, modified, and used his method of speaking “in the voice of the people.”

Adams had only limited success in rousing the American people against British rule. He did succeed, however, in creating a network of malcontents that undermined King George III’s colonial govern-ments. While members of Adams’s network were everywhere, they were never more than a small fraction of the King’s American subjects. How did they gain the support of the American people? I say they never did. Rather than winning popular support, they silenced their opponents with public violence and frightened those who witnessed it with threats and intimidation.

As Adams’s henchmen were bullying their unprepared countrymen, patriotic scribed flooded the country with lists of grievances against Parliament and the King and ceaseless propaganda touting the “rights” of the people. A war began when the English King moved to suppress Adams’s insurgency and reestablish his authority in his colonies. I characterize this war as a “rights revolution.” It was not, however, a popular uprising. Nor did a majority of British Americans ever view King George III as a tyrant.