The American Revolution entailed some remarkable transformations--converting British colonists into American revolutionaries, and a cluster of colonies into a confederation of states with a common cause -- but it was far more complex and enduring than the fighting of a war. As John Adams put it, "The Revolution was in the Minds of the people... before a drop of blood was drawn at Lexington"--and it continued long past America's victory at Yorktown. This course will examine the Revolution from this broad perspective, tracing the participants' shifting sense of themselves as British subjects, colonial settlers, revolutionaries, and Americans.
01 - Introduction - Freeman's Top Five Tips for Studying the American Revolution
Professor Freeman offers an introduction to the course, summarizing the readings and discussing the course's main goals. She also offers five tips for studying the Revolution: 1) Avoid thinking about the Revolution as a story about facts and dates; 2) Remember that words we take for granted today, like "democracy," had very different meanings; 3) Think of the "Founders" as real people rather than mythic historic figures; 4) Remember that the "Founders" aren’t the only people who count in the Revolution; 5) Remember the importance of historical contingency: that anything could have happened during the Revolution.
02 - Being a British Colonist
Professor Freeman discusses what it meant to be a British colonist in America in the eighteenth century. She explains how American colonists had deep bonds of tradition and culture with Great Britain. She argues that, as British colonists with a strong sense of their British liberties, settlers in America valued their liberties above all else. She also explains that many Americans had a sense of inferiority when they compared their colonial lifestyles to the sophistication of Europe. Professor Freeman discusses the social order in America during the eighteenth century, and suggests that the lack of an entrenched aristocracy made social rank more fluid in America than in Europe. She ends the lecture by suggesting that the great importance that American colonists placed on British liberties and their link with Britain helped pave the way for the Revolution.
03 - Being a British American
Professor Freeman discusses the differences between society in the American colonies and society in Britain in the eighteenth century. She uses examples from colonists' writings to show that the American colonies differed from British society in three distinct ways: the distinctive character of the people who migrated to the colonies; the distinctive conditions of life in British America; and the nature of British colonial administration.
04 - "Ever at Variance and Foolishly Jealous": Intercolonial Relations
Professor Freeman discusses colonial attempts to unite before the 1760s and the ways in which regional distrust and localism complicated matters. American colonists joined together in union three times before the 1760s. Two of these attempts were inspired by the necessity of self-defense; the third attempt was instigated by the British as a means of asserting British control over the colonies.
05 - Outraged Colonials: The Stamp Act Crisis
Professor Freeman concludes her discussion (from the previous lecture) of the three early instances in which the American colonies joined together to form a union. She then turns to a discussion of the Stamp Act crisis, and how American colonists found a shared bond through their dissatisfaction with the Stamp Act. Faced with massive national debts incurred by the recent war with France, Prime Minister George Grenville instituted several new taxes to generate revenue for Britain and its empire. The colonists saw these taxes as signaling a change in colonial policy, and thought their liberties and rights as British subjects were being abused. These feelings heightened with the Stamp Act of 1765. Finding a shared cause in their protestations against these new British acts, Americans set the foundation for future collaboration between the colonies.
06 - Resistance or Rebellion? (Or, What the Heck is Happening in Boston?)
Professor Freeman discusses the mounting tensions between the colonists and the British in the late 1760s and early 1770s. The Virginia Resolves were published and read throughout the colonies in 1765, and generated discussion about colonial rights and liberties. Colonies began working together to resolve their problems, and formed the Stamp Act Congress in 1765. Meanwhile, Boston was becoming more radicalized and mobs began acting out their frustration with British policies. Colonists began to believe that the British were conspiring to oppress their liberties, a belief that seemed to be confirmed when the British stationed troops in Boston. The mounting tension between the Bostonians and British troops culminated in the violence of the Boston Massacre in March 1770.