From Publishers Weekly
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. Breen's thesis is quite simple: the colonists' experiences as consumers gave them the ability to develop new and effective forms of social action that eventuated in revolution. What's brilliant about the book is that it focuses on the slow development of the shared trust, brought about first by commerce and then by commercial protests (like "tea parties" and boycotts of British goods), essential to sustain a revolution over so large a territory and among so diverse a set of colonies. Trust is not usually a historical subject, but Northwestern University historian Breen (Imagining the Past, etc.) makes it critical to his story. There's much else to lure serious readers-insights, for example, into the awakening of women's political action and into how people can mobilize themselves for what they take to be the common good. But don't be deceived by fluent prose and diverting evidence. This is a demanding book, built upon a lifetime of learning, about a huge subject. It's also, by implication, of great current relevance. What's more, by putting economic boycotts into the center of the Revolution's origins, Breen revives an interpretive theme that's languished for 50 years. This, among many other features of the book, makes clear that those who may have thought that there was not much new to be said about the Revolution were wrong. 40 illus.
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Arguing that the revolution of 1776 was the first in history based on evaporating brand loyalty, 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 they 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.
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