Topic 5



John Adams


bulletBailyn, chaps. 1-3
bullet Was the Revolution Inevitable? [BBC SIte]

Reading Notes & Questions

Sources & Links

OVERVIEW: Between 1765 and 1775 the revolutionary movement developed around three crises over protests against some of Parliament's legislation. Eventually, the protests led to the bloodshed of Lexington and Concord in April, 1775. It is essential, however, to remember that the movement did not aim at the rupture that came with the war that followed. This second part of the course looks at the emergence and development of the revolutionary movement while asking the question: Were the war and its consequences inevitable?


The reading assignment (see the box at the left) includes a BBC site dealing with that question. How does its answer compare with the views of Bailyn and Cook?


You will find this timeline of the revolutionary decade useful

Be sure you have worked through the readings and notes for Topic 4, particularly the section on Shaping a New Policy, which serves as the prelude to the decade of protest.  

THEME: During the crisis decade, opposition to London's policies intersected with local politics in all the colonies. This session (Topic 5) looks at politics in key colonies and the role played by both public issues and personal conflicts  and ambitions as leaders of the revolutionary movement and their opponents dealt with  issues raised by each crisis. The reading in Bailyn focuses on the theme of  "the complex relationship among personalities, ideas, and events. " It presents biographical essays on three important Americans as part of his view that the revolutionary movement ". . . was the product of human decision and of the impact of personalities and ideas upon the events of the time. During the years of disruption it therefore mattered who was in charge, who led the struggle, and who led the opposition to it; it mattered what kinds of people they were, what patterns of personal responses they brought to the public life of their time. Above all, it mattered what they believed, what motivated them, how they perceived the world and the events in which they participated. " [page x]



An important feature of 18th-century provincial politics throughout the colonies was the growth of elites (wealthy and socially prestigious families) who found the political arena essential to their ambition.  They found various avenues:

bulletCircles of men around the governors and in the councils, the appointed upper houses of colonial legislatures.
bulletImperial appointments - difficult to achieve without the leverage of influential networks in Britain
bulletThe elected assemblies - providing an arena for competing elites
bullet In every colony the governors and their local political allies had to deal with opposition factions.
bullet In this session we'll briefly examine  four key colonies: Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia

MASSACHUSETTS: Thomas Hutchinson and the "Court Party" and the Opposition

            1760- Gov. Bernard arrives. James Otis, Sr. expected to be named new Chief Justice. Instead Thomas Hutchinson got the post.

            Hutchinson had accumulated multiple offices (Lieutenant Governor, President of the Council, Captain of Castle William) and his family and friends had several good positions. Hutchinson became the target for the eloquence of  James Otis, Jr. Otis and Oxenbridge Thatcher became the opposition.


1. Otis, Sr. and some of the "country party" in eastern Massachusetts joined leaders of the Boston populace who had long been a majority in the Assembly.

2. For a time Boston's merchants sided with them against the enforce the trade acts. Although they were continually defeated in Hutchinson's court (Otis was one of their lawyers), Otis won popularity and in 1761 was elected to the Assembly. Otis, Sr. was elected Speaker and joined his followers to the Boston faction. In this way the "Popular Party" was born.

 The Boston Town Meeting: From May, 1764 it played an increasingly important role. Its popular leaders like Samuel Adams used the newspapers to broadcast their views and persuaded the Town Meeting to adopt their positions in instructions to the Assembly.

NEW YORK: Delancys vs. Livingstons

PENNSYLVANIA: Proprietary Party vs. the Quaker Party

VIRGINIA: Smooth politics of a cohesive oligarchy