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The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence

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The Marketplace of Revolution offers a boldly innovative interpretation of the mobilization of ordinary Americans on the eve of independence. Breen explores how colonists who came from very different ethnic and religious backgrounds managed to overcome difference and create a common cause capable of galvanizing resistance. In a richly interdisciplinary narrative that weaves insights into a changing material culture with analysis of popular political protests, Breen shows how virtual strangers managed to communicate a sense of trust that effectively united men and women long before they had established a nation of their own.
The Marketplace of Revolution argues that the colonists' shared experience as consumers in a new imperial economy afforded them the cultural resources that they needed to develop a radical strategy of political protest--the consumer boycott. Never before had a mass political movement organized itself around disruption of the marketplace. As Breen demonstrates, often through anecdotes about obscure Americans, communal rituals of shared sacrifice provided an effective means to educate and energize a dispersed populace. The boycott movement--the signature of American resistance--invited colonists traditionally excluded from formal political processes to voice their opinions about liberty and rights within a revolutionary marketplace, an open, raucous public forum that defined itself around subscription lists passed door-to-door, voluntary associations, street protests, destruction of imported British goods, and incendiary newspaper exchanges. Within these exchanges was born a new form of politics in which ordinary man and women--precisely the people most often overlooked in traditional accounts of revolution--experienced an exhilarating surge of empowerment.
Breen recreates an "empire of goods" that transformed everyday life during the mid-eighteenth century. Imported manufactured items flooded into the homes of colonists from New Hampshire to Georgia. The Marketplace of Revolution explains how at a moment of political crisis Americans gave political meaning to the pursuit of happiness and learned how to make goods speak to power.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"With his new book T.H. Breen, who is one of the most imaginative and productive of early American historians, has carried scholarly interest in consumption in the eighteenth century to a new level.... By the time he is halfway or so through his book, Breen has succeeded admirably in proving the widespread availability of imported British consumer goods in the eighteenth-century colonies. This part of the book is a model of careful historical reconstruction. No one has ever demonstrated as fully and as exhaustively the nature and extent of American buying in the eighteenth century."--Gordon S. Wood, The New York Review of Books

"The most original interpretation of how the American Revolution happened to appear in print in the last fifty years."--Joseph J. Ellis, author of Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

"The author of this profoundly important book achieves what most historians only dream of. He propels forward to a new stage of understanding a subject--the origins of the American Revolution--that is large, complex and vexed by controversy."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A powerfully argued book. Not only does it offer a detailed account of the workings of the eighteenth-century Atlantic economy--tracing the movement of an increasing variety of manufactured goods from Great Britain into the hands of an ever growing number of colonial consumers--but it also contains an imaginative interpretation of the origins of the American Revolution, transforming the Americans' extraordinary consumer power into political power."--Gordon S. Wood, author of The Radicalism of the American Revolution

"Breen has demonstrated and documented, as never before, the popular origins of the American Revolution. In doing so he has given us new insights into the way a widely dispersed people forged a national identity. This is a seminal work that will affect all future understanding of our national beginnings." --Edmund S. Morgan, author of Benjamin Franklin

"Breen draws a rich portrait of a Colonial society saturated with what Samuel Adams called 'the Baubles of Britain': everything from fine china to Cheshire cheese. The colonists were divided by religion and industry, but the shared a common identity as consumers of British products--and, increasingly, as wronged consumers, once Britain levied exorbitant tariffs and used America as a dumping ground for surplus goods. Tea, the Coca-Cola of its day, became a symbol of imperial overreach. Colonists reacted with what Breen sees as the Revolution's brilliant innovation: the consumer boycott. Benjamin Franklin told Parliament that, while the pride of Americans had been 'to indulge in the fashions and manufactures of Great Britain,' it was now 'to wear their old cloaths over again.' Because they shopped together, Americans could rebel together."--The New Yorker

"Breen, an especially accomplished and insightful historian, offers an innovative explanation for the sudden and surprising creation of an American identity and union."--The New Republic

"This interesting work offers an original perspective and some provocative conclusions."--Booklist

"Both elegantly written and informed by the latest scholarship, this volume makes the outbreak of the American Revolution more comprehensible than anything currently on the shelves of your mega bookstore by focusing less on the theories of the founding fathers and more on the not-so-self-sufficient American colonists and the way their mass consumption led to their mass mobilization." --Carole Shammas, John R. Hubbard Chair in History, University of Southern California

"Given the depth of its scholarship, The Marketplace of Revolution is a surprisingly easy read...the well-worn story of the American Revolution gains an entirely unexpected urgency and suspense in his telling."--New York Observer

"Breen makes a convincing case for the primacy of consumer interests in forging a unity among the colonies, and eventually creating the American union. Densely argued, with a wealth of examples."--Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195181319
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 1/20/2005
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 658,439
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

T.H. Breen is William Smith Mason Professor of American History at Northwestern University. An authority on the culture and politics of the early Atlantic World, he has written six major books, including Tobacco Culture and Imagining the Past.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction: The Revolutionary Politics of Consumption xi
1 Tale of the Hospitable Consumer: A Revolutionary Argument 1
Part 1 An Empire of Goods
2 Inventories of Desire: The Evidence 33
3 Consumers' New World: The Unintended Consequences of Commercial Success 72
4 Vade Mecum: The Great Chain of Colonial Acquisition 102
5 The Corrosive Logic of Choice: Living with Goods 148
Part 2 "A Commercial Plan for Political Salvation"
6 Strength out of Dependence: Strategies of Consumer Resistance in an Empire of Goods 195
7 Making Lists-Taking Names: The Politicization of Everyday Life 235
8 Bonfires of Tea: The Final Act 294
Notes 333
Index 373
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