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Tobacco Culture: The Mentality of the Great Tidewater Planters on the Eve of Revolution. Paperback – September 1, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0691089140 ISBN-10: 0691089140 Edition: With a New preface by the author

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; With a New preface by the author edition (September 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691089140
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691089140
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #175,130 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Why did Virginia's great Tidewater planters figure so prominently in the movement for independence? A good part of the reason, according to Breen, is found in the values of personal honor and autonomy that the tobacco planters' culture promoted. Growing indebtedness to English merchants, which threatened such values, made many especially susceptible to ``Radical Country thought.'' Rejecting the purely economic interpretation of the Progressive historians, and going beyond the ``idealist'' explanation of Bernard Baylin, Breen skillfully details the ``complex interplay between ideology and experience.'' A rich, balanced, and judicious work that breaks new ground in the study of the American Revolution. For informed laypersons and scholars. Roy H. Tryon, Delaware State Archives, Dover
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Breen writes clearly and argues well. . . . Tobacco Culture is enjoyable."--Allen Boyer, New York Times

"T. H. Breen's important new book attempts to explain why the great Virginia Planters embraced the Revolutionary cause with so much enthusiasm. He argues that growing indebtedness to British merchants after 1750 jeopardized the planters' traditional dominance, finally precipitating `a major cultural crisis' in the years immediately preceding Independence. Breen's major contribution is to delineate the `mentality' of the great planters of the period when private and public distress converged. . . . It is a superb contribution to the literature of the American Revolution."--Peter S. Onuf, William and Mary Quarterly

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
I'm glad to see this was reprinted, as I found it to be a quite interesting look at reasons why American elites supported a war that most likely would have cost them everything they owned. The answer: they didn't own anything by the end of the 18th century. The reason why is that they had bought everything on credit against their tobacco crop. When the economy nosedived, the British merchants who held the debts wanted their due. The ensuing resentment by the planters led to support for the American revolutionary movement.
Breen used exhaustive research in putting this book together, and even threw in some neat information on the Founding Fathers. Did you know Washington failed as a tobacco farmer? That he continually loaned money to a deadbeat that never repaid him? It's in this book.
Another aspect of this book I found interesting was the step by step process of growing tobacco in the 18th century. It's hard to believe that anyone made a successful go of it. A neat book with a neat argument.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Glenn M. Harden on March 22, 1998
Format: Paperback
This work explores the relationship between tobacco, debt, and revolution in the pre-revolutionary Chesapeake. T.H. Breen's path to revolution flows from (1) trouble in the tobacco economy to (2) increasing planter debt to (3) a fear over lost autonomy to (4) a collective frustration to (5) a commitment to cultural renewal. The collective frustration and commitment to renewal both coincided with the resistance to Britain over constitutional issues. While not advocating any monocausal explanation, Breen does argue that the planter's fear over lost autonomy was necessary for the revolution. My main criticism is that he assumes that the elites set the pattern for behavior in the Chesapeake and therefore does not adequately explain why the Chesapeake's non-elites supported the revolution. This question regarding Virginia's non-elites seems particular important given Virginia's relative internal unity during the revolutionary period. Overall, Breen's exploration of the cultural world of the Chesapeake elite does enhance our understanding of the path to revolution. I recommend this work to any student of revolutionary America.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By ChangYai on July 13, 2012
Format: Paperback
This book offers great insight into the development of political positions and into the overall culture of the tobacco planting elites in pre-revolutionary America. Included among them were two of America's most celebrated founding fathers, Jefferson and Washington.

The book stresses the importance of cultivating tobacco as a defining aspect of their life; the way they think, the rituals they share, shared codes of trust and honor and overall the way the non-relenting demands of growing tobacco, as an agricultural commodity but also as a natural crop, embedded common ground for the tobacco elite of Tidewater, Virginia. It allows the reader to see how this culture shifted over time and how it affected the decisions of particular planters....for example, the decision to grow wheat, because of differences in cultivation and credit arrangements, was seen as a social revolution and not just a shift from planter to farmer.

The struggles with debt and market crises for virtually all tobacco planters is a very interesting and instructive theme underlying the main narrative of the overall culture throughout.

The book certainly leaves out a great many others that played a role in the American revolution, but because its focus is simple the book reveals an important storyline underlying the shaping of a revolutionary mentality.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Harry Eagar VINE VOICE on December 28, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The agricultural origins of Americans' habits of revolution, even their habits of being distinguishable as Americans are too little emphasized, but T.H. Breen's "Tobacco Culture" goes a long way to rectifying that.

The situation in the mid-18th century was not the first instance of unrest on the land, only the most consequential; it was followed by similar -- but different -- upheavals that led to civil war, to Roosevelt democracy and, the revolutionary spirit atrophying as the overall wealth and stability of America grew, to the disgruntlement of the Midwestern corn/hog/cattle farmers in the 1970s.

A theoretical superstructure to bring all these into a general view would be welcome, if justified, but perhaps the rebelliousness of the farmers is not as coherent a concept as I think it is. American farmer unrest is different in kind from the jacqueries and rural incendiarism in other times and places, because the American farmer was, usually, a capitalist.

Never more so than in mid-century Virginia and Maryland. Indebted capitalists, but capitalists all the same. And men with social status and political power -- not the source of radical revolution in most times and places.

Breen's little book emphasizes the debts, the risks, the resentments as Scottish factors gradually gained (as it seemed to the farmers) a stranglehold on the independence of the rural plutocracy. The factors, in their own minds, were rather in the position of a fashionable West End tailor whose lordly customers are so far in arrears that he dare not keep cutting coats for them.
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