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American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People Hardcover – May 11, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Breen presents a provocative reinterpretation of the American Revolution as more of a grassroots movement of ordinary persons than is often presented. Beginning roughly two years before the 1776 Declaration of Independence, thousands of colonists—mostly farm families living in small communities—elected committees to channel their mounting fear, fury, and resentment into organized resistence. Fed up with the British Empire's incessant demands for ever greater loyalty, obedience, and taxes—and, Breen emphasizes, motivated by their evangelical faith—they had resolved to fight well before their famous leaders made it official, according to Breen. Their tipping point was the Battle of Lexington and Concord of April 19, 1775, news of which spread effectively throughout the 13 colonies, thanks to established communications systems. Northwestern history professor Breen (The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence) writes compellingly, but, contrary to his repeated claims, his is hardly the first account to focus on grassroots rural rebels. Even Mel Gibson's shlock movie The Patriot made the same basic point. Still, this is a valuable book by a distinguished scholar. (May)
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“Breen elegantly demonstrates how much we miss when our histories are focused principally on the Founding Fathers.” —Nicholas Guyatt, The Times Literary Supplement
“Generation after generation, students are taught that the Founders inspired a hesitant, though hardy, American populace to reclaim its rights . . . The truth is a good deal messier and more interesting. Historians in our own time—Mr. Breen, Gary B. Nash and Gordon S. Wood, among others—have shifted the emphasis to the common people.” — Alan Pell Crawford, The Wall Street Journal
“Founding Father John Adams, looking back at the heady and trying days of the American Revolution, famously wrote ‘the Revolution was effected before the war commenced.’ T. H. Breen’s new history sets out to fill in the detail — showing that by the time embattled farmers ‘fired the shot heard round the world’ in Concord in 1775, the battle had already been joined by tens of thousands of colonials . . . Breen’s book shows an energetic and necessarily untidy process of invention on the part of a people, and captures well its improvisatory nature.” —Art Winslow, Chicago Tribune
“a scholarly, unnerving account of the American Revolution’s darker side—the violence, death threats, false rumors, and extremist rhetoric that introduced a new political order” —Caleb Crain, The New Yorker
“In this compellingly structured and argued book, T.H. Breen asserts that a de facto nation came into existence between the spring and fall of 1774. It was in these crucial months that the people of the thirteen colonies -- not the Founding Fathers, not the Continental Army, not the maladroit British government -- executed a series of steps that collectively solved problems of governance and demonstrated how a republic could be successfully constituted. What's even more surprising is that Breen makes this somewhat counterintuitive argument, one rooted in a social history sensibility, in the form of a chronological narrative. He achieves this cohesion despite lacking a discrete sense of leading characters or a dramatic set of circumstances (the most consequential event of his story is actually a rumor). The result is a book that's highly readable as well as provocative.” —Jim Cullen, History News Network 
American Insurgents, American Patriots is one of the most compelling accounts I've read of how ‘the people’ forged the Revolution.” —Thomas S. Kidd, Books and Culture
American Insurgents, American Patriots is a much-needed corrective to the notion that the Revolution was the product solely of intellectuals and pamphleteers . . . Breen is especially good on reminding us of the passion that the mass of people — whom he calls ‘insurgents’ — brought to the cause. He traces the role played by newspapers in firing up these rural folks and shows how their readiness to react, sometimes violently, fueled the cause of independence.” —Tony Lewis, Providence Journal
“Casting a wide net in his research to reconstruct the patchwork of grassroots rebellions and self-organized protests across the colonies. Breen is among the growing ranks of historians convincingly uncovering how the Founding Fathers followed and controlled, rather than precipitated, the move toward independence and democracy.” —American History
“T. H. Breen’s American Insurgents, American Patriots is a pioneering and riveting new analysis of how America was born. Skirting the whole Founding Fathers phenomena, Breen champions instead the everyman of the pre-revolution as a brave citizens’ brigade of change. A landmark achievement!” —Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History at Rice University and official CBS News Historian
“The Founding Fathers have all the honor they need. Now it’s time to honor the ordinary men and women who T. H. Breen brilliantly assays in this riveting book on the crucial run-up to the Declaration of Independence. He shows how people from small farming communities, risking all, purged the countryside of royal officials, dismantled royal authority, shuttered court houses, and defied the King’s troops. In this tautly constructed book, Breen shows how much the bewigged Founding Fathers owed to those beneath them, and how much we owe to the plain-spoken, inconspicuous, and roughened colonial insurgents who are the unsung heroes of the American Revolution.” —Gary B. Nash, author of The Unknown American Revolution
“Who made the American Revolution? Not the men who typically get the most credit for it, says T.H. Breen in American Insurgents, American Patriots.  This bracing and impassioned recounting of the origins of America’s break with Great Britain puts ‘the people’—ordinary men and women—back into their rightful place in the story. Sure to provoke discussion, Breen’s work is a much-needed and welcome addition to the literature on the founding of the American nation.” —Annette Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
“T. H. Breen’s revisionist page-turner recaptures the ungentlemanly labors of Colonial America's dangerous classes, those vigilantes, night riders, and terrorists who made the Revolution possible even before Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Paine proclaimed its necessity. There is sobering contemporary relevance here for Americans about great empires and the violent resistance they spawn in the name of freedom.” —David Levering Lewis, winner of the Pulitzer Prize 
“In this engaging book, Breen tells the vivid stories of thousands of ordinary Americans who made an extraordinary revolution. American Insurgents, American Patriots reminds us that we have many more Founding Mothers and Fathers than we usually recognize.  Breen deftly explores the American Revolution in its full social depth, revealing how it affected everyone: the rich and poor, free and slave, and Patriot and Loyalist.” —Alan Taylor, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
“Breen has uncovered the grass roots of the American Revolution in the unheralded acts of ordinary people.  Meeting in towns and villages throughout the colonies, they gave public notice that they no longer consented to British rule.  Without the prompting of the leaders who have figured so largely in standard histories, they established their own independence well before Thomas Jefferson and company declared it in their famous document." —Edmund Morgan, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
American Insurgents, American Patriots reveals startling details of the alienation and anger that pervaded the minds of thousands of Americans long before shots were fired on Lexington Green. This is a book that deepens our understanding of the American Revolution—and it’s a great read in the bargain!” —Thomas Fleming, author of Washington’s Secret War: The Hidden History of Valley Forge
“This compelling narrative examines the lives of ordinary Americans who in the years 1774 and 1775 led the way to American independence.  The book’s great merit is to describe the foundation that an insurgency of common people constructed for the building of a new nation.” —Mark A. Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame
“T. H. Breen restores the people to their proper place in our understanding of the coming of the American Revolution.  Showing how popular anger at misguided British policies was channeled into political and military action, Breen gives us fresh perspectives on the ways ordinary Americans mobilized themselves for war and helped create a new nation.  Beautifully written and powerfully argued, American Insurgents, American Patriots should attract a wide and grateful readership.” —Peter S. Onuf, author of Jefferson's Empire: The Language of American Nationhood
“Breen’s account restores a vivid sense of what the American Revolution felt like to the brave men and women who lived through its enormous ups and downs, and its everyday violence as well.  With a scholar’s command and a writer’s sympathy, he infuses a world of meaning into the word ‘insurgent’— an apt description for the Americans who were turning the known world upside down.” —Ted Widmer, Director and Librarian, John Carter Brown Library
“If earlier authors convinced you that Americans owe their independence to a handful of ‘founding brothers,’ you will be fascinated by T. H. Breen’s persuasive demonstration that the Founders of the republic could not have succeeded—and might not have tried—without support and pressure from tens of thousands of ordinary Patriots who recognized that sometimes leaders need to be led.” —Woody Holton, author of Abigail Adams
“Casting a new light on the origins of the struggle for independence, Breen mines letters, sermons and diaries to create a lively, nuanced account of ordinary farmers’ growing resistance to the British government in the two years before the Declaration of Independence. Angry at oppressive parliamentary acts that abrogated their God-given rights, tens of thousands of rebellious insurgents laid the groundwork for a successful revolution. Their anger was every bit as important to the revolutionary story as the learned debates of the Founding Fathers . . . An important new view of a revolution in the making.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Breen presents a provocative reinterpretation of the American Revolution as more of a grassroots movement of ordinary persons . . . This is a valuable book by a distinguished scholar.” —Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition edition (May 11, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809075881
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809075881
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #405,993 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Gary T. Johnson on May 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Imagine an American Revolution that doesn't look like a seminar in political philosophy. That is the revolution that Breen has documented and revealed, as nobody before has done so well. The word "insurgents" sounds provocative, but it captures the dynamics in the many farms and towns that Breen explores in this riveting account. It would be a mistake to assume that this is an exercise in rounding out a story whose main story line already is well-known. Instead, Breen demonstrates how the push and pull of wide-spread insurgency helped to shape familiar events in places such as Philadelphia. You will need to learn new words in connection with this American Revolution, such as "revenge" -- score-settling in small towns and villages -- and "charity" -- describing mass efforts to mobilize relief for places around the country thought to be in need. Breen's "The Marketplace of Revolution" taught us how what he called "consumer politics" shaped pre-revolutionary thinking, with the boycott as a favored tactic. "American Insurgents, American Patriots" is in the same spirit, but runs even deeper. This is a must-read that will change our understanding of the American Revolution.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Paul J. Markowitz on February 3, 2012
Format: Paperback
The story of the revolutionary period in United States history is a cornerstone of the shared understanding of our nation's history. The names of Sam Adams, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington are known by everybody and are inextricably tied to our common knowledge of this era.

But according to T. H. Breen the story of the American Revolution begins before these well-known individuals enter the scene. In fact, an American insurgency preceded the revolutionary events that every elementary school student has been taught. This insurgency began as loosely organized militants who frequently ran off British agents in the countryside and then organized committees of safety that became schools of revolution.

According to Breen these insurgencies began in mid-1774 as extralegal activities brought about by anger and resentment that involved the threat, and in some cases, the actual use of violence. This spontaneous political outrage swept through New England and was effectively communicated to other colonies. These insurgents were able to channel their rage into a viable movement so that the local committees that were formed in their wake became de facto governments as they chased British agents from the countryside.

Until this time Americans had a robust trade with Britain, were proud to be British subjects and saw themselves as holding the Empire together. The British in turn saw these brewing troubles as signs of a civil war not as a political rebellion. The British punished the insurgency often by harming innocents and thus turned moderates into radicals.

During the summer of 1774 a surge of disobedience transformed the political landscape of colonial America.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By AjitMan on August 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover
TH Breen argues in American Insurgents, American Patriots about the importance of the "middling folk" in the American Revolution. He claims that both the elite thinkers we recognize as our Founding Fathers and the common people that have been lost in history shaped the Revolution. Those people were not theoretical politicians or statesmen, but they had a firm grasp on their ideals. Among those ideals was the concept of God-given rights. They believed that the power derived from the people, and the people had a moral duty to ensure just government. When government turned arbitrary, as the monarchy of Britain had, it was the people's duty to Appeal to Heaven. Emotions of anger, fear, and pain drove the people to make sacrifices to achieve fair government. These emotions were stirred by literature in newspapers and pamphlets. Lastly, the Revolution of the People, as Breen calls it, was driven by the mass's ability to organize. This meant organizing charities to aid Boston, militiamen to repel Redcoats, or mobs to evict mandamus officials. In the end, without the effort of the people, the Revolution would not have occurred.

The book itself is a slow read. While the information itself is interesting and provides a fresh view of the Revolution, the really gripping stories are few and far between. For example, most of the evidence Breen uses is from first-person narratives or anonymous newspaper articles that don't resonate with the reader. He saves the narrative from inducing boredom by including the pivotal event of the destruction of Boston. This little-known event is an example of the immense organizational power of the colonial militia, and grabs the reader's attention. Overall, it is a great book to read for a reader who wishes to gain insight about the events leading up to the American Revolution from the perspective of the people.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By JunkyardWisdom on October 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
A lot of the American Revolution history is told from the viewpoint of our Founding Fathers. There are countless books written about Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin. These were brilliant men, highly capable, excellent leaders, and they deserve the attention. But ... when was the last time you read a book about the Revolution from the viewpoint of the ordinary citizen?

American Insurgents, American Patriots by T.H. Breen attempts to tell that story. And it succeeds where other attempts fail. Breen does not lace his book with bias and storylines to prove a point. Instead, he just tells the stories of the ordinary citizens who created committees to seek out Loyalists, formed militias, enforced economic bans on English goods, and stood up to the English bureaucrats who seemed completely unable to read what was happening around them. He acknowledges a few atrocities and some people going overboard, but by and large he's telling a story of a truly civil demonstration. And by that I mean, a relatively just and honest group of people that had a high degree of respect even for the neighbor that remained a Loyalist. A theme throughout the book was the centrality of religion, and in particular Evangelicalism, to the Revolution.

This is a book that will be popular with all parts of our citizenry today. Political scientists can find things in this book that reflect modern uprisings. Progressives will find a civil and just society that tolerated differences of opinion without resorting to violence. Militia members will hear how their forefathers did it. The Tea Party could learn a few things. That's what is cool about this book ... it will appeal to a wide audience.

If you love history, particularly American Revolutionary history, this is a must read.
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