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The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson Paperback – January 31, 1976

9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674641617 ISBN-10: 0674641612

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Editorial Reviews


Professor Bailyn has written a biography that is a work of art: exquisitely written, delicate in insight, and imbued with a wisdom about men and affairs that is the true hallmark of a great historian. (J. H. Plumb Times Literary Supplement)

As political biography, The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson is without equal in the voluminous literature on the Revolution. No other public figure of the Revolution has found such skillful and sensitive attention. (Jack P. Greene History)

Writing this kind of history requires discipline, imagination, and sensitivity, and it presupposes that there is an inner world of intellect and of moral and emotional sensibility which is intimately responsive to external events... His probing, taut yet luminous prose weaves together into a single fabric finished explanations, analyses of evidence, flashes of insight, and intuitive understandings. A triumph of historical and literary artistry...The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson is that rare achievement which is at once original and nearly definitive, masterful and provocative. (Robert M. Calhoon Reviews in American History)

About the Author

Bernard Bailyn is Adams University Professor, Emeritus, and Director of the International Seminar on the History of the Atlantic World at Harvard University.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (1976)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674641612
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674641617
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #563,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 45 people found the following review helpful By John A. Cusey on August 31, 2001
Format: Paperback
I'll cheerfully agree with the reviewer below who claims that Bailyn's biography of Thomas Hutchinson, who was a fixture in Massachusetts politics for the last two decades of the colonial period and who was the loyalist governor of the province at the time of the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party, presupposes a general knowledge of American Revolutionary History and the acts of Parliament which figured so prominently in it. In fact, I'll go a step further and say that one's enjoyment of this book would be greatly enhanced by reading two of Bailyn's other works which provide the scholarly framework for Bailyn's argument in this book: THE IDEOLOGICAL ORIGINS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION and THE ORIGINS OF AMERICAN POLITICS. Bailyn's central argument in this book is that Hutchinson, the prototypical Loyalist, failed because he could never conceptually understand the ideological underpinnings of his opponents' thought. He was convinced that a small group of demogogues motivated by base self-interest had managed to convince the populace at large that the British government was plotting against them and their God-given rights when it was clear to Hutchinson that all notions of a perfidious British plot were absolutely ridiculous. Unfortunately, Hutchinson's analysis of the situation was severely flawed, and Hutchinson's failure to understand his opponents made him incapable of convincing them that they were in error.
Bailyn is the foremost living historian of the American Revolution, and this book is what one would expect from someone of Bailyn's stature. It's wonderfully researched and wonderfully written, and it truly is a joy to read. It's not the first book that one should read about the American Revolution, but it's certainly on the list.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
This really interesting book is a sympathetic biography of the American loyalist politician Thomas Hutchinson. Bailyn uses Hutchinson's extensive correspondence and diaries to reconstruct the life and thought of a intelligent opponent of the American Revolution. In part, this is an interesting and extremely well written effort to cast light on the Revolutionary generation with a detailed examination of the major alternative to the Revolution. Highly intelligent, thoughtful, politically experienced, and deeply rooted in colonial Massachusetts, Hutchinson made his career in trade and also by serving as an official in the colonial-imperial government. He, and his considerable extended family, were deeply enmeshed in the web of governmental patronage centered on London and he was quite successful in using the patronage system to further his career and that of his relatives. Bailyn also makes clear that Hutchinson was patriotic (both towards Massachusetts and the British Empire), civic minded, and that his career was marked by many actions that benefited his native colony. In many ways, he was a model imperial official whose actions aimed at, and often succeeded in, benefiting Massachusetts and Britain.

Hutchinson was caught in the middle when the existing imperial structure began to unravel after the Seven Years War. Responding to the arguments of individuals like Sam Adams and James Otis, Hutchinson was arguably more perceptive than many among the incipient Revolutionaries. He foresaw that the logical conclusion of these arguments would be independence. Beyond his intrinsic conservatism and success in the existing imperial system, Hutchinson reasonably believed that independence for the colonies would result in a weak state that would fall prey to other European powers.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By T. Graczewski VINE VOICE on August 12, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Few people remember the name Thomas Hutchinson today, but he was once the most hated man in America. And, if Bernard Bailyn, one of the most distinguished historians of revolutionary America, is to be believed, he is also one of the most misunderstood and wrongfully maligned men in American history. Several notable pieces seek to present the story of the American Revolution from the British perspective (Piers Mackesy's "The War for America" and Christopher Hibbert's "Redcoats and Rebels" are two good examples), but none have succeeded as well as "The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson," which casts light on a now largely forgotten historical figure and brings an immediacy to the events of Boston from 1765 to 1774 that is without parallel.

Hutchinson was one of the Massachusetts Bay Colony's leading native sons. His family had been in the colony for over a century; he had been raised and educated in Massachusetts and spent nearly his entire adult life in public service, during which time he earned a strong reputation for honesty and integrity. He served as chief justice and lieutenant governor and then governor during the most tumultuous years in colonial history. According to Bailyn, he tried vigorously and sincerely to steer the colony successfully through the dangerous political shoals of the Stamp Act, Boston Massacre, Suffolk Resolves , Boston Tea Party in the attempt to avoid what he believed would be "the most unnatural, the most unnecessary war" against their British countrymen.

Hutchinson believed that a rebellion in Massachusetts was being fomented deliberately by a small clique of intriguers with selfish motives hiding behind righteous but insincere slogans of liberty and freedom.
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