Question by drs823: How did the revolutionary war influence the thought, opinion and behavior of american people?
how did american people change during the war? their thoughts, opinions, and behaviors?
Answer by Butcher Bird
“Ordinary people” is a broad term. In the port towns it covered seafarers, laborers, apprentices, journeymen artisans, master craftsmen, tavern keepers, and even small merchants. In the right circumstances it could cover slaves, though describing a crowd as comprising “sailors, Negroes, and boys” was a standard way to disown it. Crowd action was a normal part of eighteenth-century urban life. Some crowds amounted to a whole community defending itself when the militia, the sheriff’s posse, or the volunteer fire company could not. Even gentlemen might be involved, perhaps disguised in costume or a workingman’s long trousers.
Crowd action also could have a class content. Seafarers, rather than all “town-born,” frustrated an attempt in 1747 to impress them off the Boston streets into the Royal Navy. Crowds could be rough, but they also could be sophisticated. Boston workingmen paraded with effigies each autumn on “Pope’s Day” (5 November), which celebrated the unmasking of the seventeenth-century Gun-powder Plot to bomb Parliament. They were keeping alive their sense that to be British meant more than doing whatever Parliament said. It was to be Protestant and free, and on that day the crowd of Protestant freemen ruled Boston’s streets.
For the most part these uprisings were traditional, aimed at restoring how things ought to be, but during the Stamp Act crisis of 1765–1766 a transformation began. An intercolonial network of Sons of Liberty emerged, combining militancy with political direction. For the most part they were men in the middle, not real plebeians but not gentry either. In Boston Samuel Adams was Harvard educated but very much a popular politician. Adams could (and often did) argue with the governor, but he also could talk to people like shoemaker Ebenezer Macintosh, who led one of the Pope’s Day crowds. Macintosh brought out the crowds on 14 August 1765, in order to “convince” stamp distributor Andrew Oliver that he should resign before the Stamp Act even took force. Boston’s depressed economy helps explain the crowd’s intense anger.
Newport, New York City, and other places followed Boston’s lead. Virginia’s House of Burgesses passed powerful (if ambiguous) resolutions. These inspired more resolutions from other assemblies and from a congress of nine colonies that assembled in New York. Mary land pamphleteer Daniel Dulany demolished the British argument that the colonies were “virtually” represented in Parliament. Henceforth the British assertion would be simply that Parliament could do what it chose. Separate but coordinated nonimportation campaigns in the ports frustrated the Townshend Acts between 1768 and 1770, not completely but enough to bring repeal of all but the tax on tea.
Parallel to the tax problem, the issue of British soldiers became an irritant. Only New York had a longstanding garrison, and it was small until the Seven Years’ War. When peace returned, the garrison remained so large that two separate barrack areas were needed to house the troops. Their off-duty competition for scarce jobs made them immensely unpopular, which also applied to the four-regiment garrison posted to Boston in 1768. Street brawls between soldiers seeking work and civilians broke out in New York in January 1770, and five Bostonians died when soldiers on guard duty at the customs house opened fire on a snowball-throwing crowd in Boston in March. Work was an issue there also, but Boston’s bloodshed began when a customs informer fired into a hostile crowd, killing eleven-year-old Christopher Seider. Calm returned after the “Boston Massacre,” but in 1772 Rhode Islanders captured and burned the revenue cutter Gaspée when it ran aground.
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