History 233 Reading Guide

Unrest:  Imperial Decisions and Colonial Reactions

  • Pauline Maier, “Popular Uprisings and Civil Authority in Eighteenth-Century America,” William and Mary Quarterly 3d. Ser., 27.1 (1970), 3-35.  JSTOR

For a brief chronology of the Proclamations, Acts, and events between 1763 and 1776, see Richard B. Morris, ed., Encyclopedia of American History (New York, 1970), "The Era of the American Revolution, 1763-89," pp. 71-94.

An overriding question frames our examination of unrest in the mid to late eighteenth century:  why did the American Revolution occur?  To answer that question, we need to determine how Americans understood their place in the political world that governed them in the eighteenth century.

Pauline Maier argues that a better understanding of colonial mobs” and crowds,” and of the insurrections they produced, will give us insight into both the political struggle for independence and some of the legal procedures that were established when the new republican government was created.  To that end, Maier examines a wide range of eighteenth-century uprisings in the colonies.

  • In what ways were American uprisings part of a European tradition of unrest—of mob” or crowd” action?  How did colonial uprisings differ from those European antecedents?
  • How did their local” perspective shape their expectations and their behavior, and why?  Why did they see extralegal action as an appropriate response to what they viewed as maladministration?
  • How did American understanding or appreciation of the role of the mob change during the revolutionary era, and why?  What were the implications of that shift in attitude for the new republic?