Almost from the beginning of their history Americans have been great consumers of goods, and they still are. Jobs may be fleeing the country, wages and salaries may be flat, and capital investment may be sluggish, but Americans’ remarkable propensity to consume goods continues. Consumption is the workhorse of the American economy, comprising nearly three quarters of the GDP, which is proportionally very much more than any other developed nation. Indeed, shopping at the mall now seems to be the American way of life. We have TV channels dedicated to home shopping, and with new magazines like Lucky and others on the way, we even have the birth of an entirely new genre of magazine, one devoted exclusively to selling goods.
Such a powerful force in American life has always attracted the attention of scholars, from Thorstein Veblen to David Reisman and John Kenneth Galbraith. It is not surprising that it should interest recent historians as well. Last year saw the publication of the much-celebrated A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America by Lizabeth Cohen. In her book Cohen argued that mass consumption largely shaped post–World War II American society, including not only the economy but politics and culture as well. Now in his new book T.H. Breen, professor of history at Northwestern University, has reached back two centuries and tried to connect the Americans’ extraordinary consumptive power with nothing less than the origins of the American Revolution.
Although there were earlier studies of consumption in early modern England, it was the publication in 1982 of The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England by Neil McKendrick, John Brewer, and J.H. Plumb that brought the subject into the mainstream of historical study. That book argued that eighteenth-century England experienced nothing less than a “consumer revolution.” More people than ever before in human history had the pleasure of acquiring material goods:
Objects which for centuries had been the privileged possessions of the rich came, within the space of a few generations, to be within the reach of a larger part of society than ever before, and, for the first time, to be within the legitimate aspirations of almost all of it.
The book seemed suddenly to open up a new field for study, and a flood of books and articles on consumption in the English-speaking world followed.
With his new book T.H. Breen, who is one of the most imaginative and productive of early American historians, has carried scholarly interest in consumption in the eighteenth century to a new level. Never before has anyone given such political and cultural weight to the buying and selling of goods in colonial America. Although he suggests that the term “consumer revolution” may be an exaggeration, he has no doubt that the colonists’ increasing purchase of British manufactured goods in the middle decades of the eighteenth century fundamentally transformed their position in the empire.
American historians, Breen writes, have not generally appreciated the importance and magnitude of the colonists’ buying of British manufactures. Most have been too accepting of the myth of the self-sufficient yeoman farmer to realize the extent to which the colonists became dependent on them. Although most Americans remained farmers throughout the colonial period, they were not really ever self-sufficient. They always had to buy some goods from local shops and stores, even if only glassware and nails. Most colonial farmers remained dependent on British imports for many of their needs.
Suddenly in the decades following 1740 these needs expanded, and imports from Britain began to skyrocket. Between 1747 and 1771 the value of colonial imports from Britain rose from £900,000 to more than £4,500,000 per year. Since the number and value of the imported goods outran the increase in population, eighteenth-century white Americans experienced a rise in their standard of living, most of them becoming as well-off as any previous people in history. Of course, this wealth was more and more unequally distributed, as the rich became considerably richer than the poor, but despite the growing inequality the poor were becoming richer too.
People of all social ranks were buying not only necessities such as nails and metal axes but also what Benjamin Franklin came to describe as “conveniences” and “superfluities”—everything from Irish linen and lace to matched sets of Wedgwood dishes. Franklin drew on his own experience as a moderately successful printer in Philadelphia to describe what was happening. He tells us in his Autobiography that his wife Deborah surprised him one morning with some new replacements for his pewter spoon and earthen bowl. By purchasing these items simply because “she thought her Husband deserv’d a Silver Spoon & China Bowl as well as any of his Neighbours,” she was not only raising her family’s status and standard of living but contributing as well to the eighteenth century’s consumer revolution.
Using a variety of sources, including the reports of travelers and government officials, museum collections, archaeological findings, probate inventories, advertisements in colonial newspapers, and customs records, Breen builds an impressive case for the widespread presence in the colonies of increasing amounts of consumer goods imported from Great Britain—ranging from textiles of all sorts to shoe buckles and silver watches. The quality and quantity of the goods kept growing. The average number of goods mentioned in issues of the Pennsylvania Gazette between 1733 and 1773, for example, jumped from ten to about four hundred per issue. This expansion in the variety of products, says Breen, meant more and more choices for American consumers—“queen’s ware, not china; Wilton carpets, not rugs; maid’s lamb gloves, not gloves.” The shops and stores displaying the goods, Breen writes, became “sites of imagination” where “the capacity of merchandising to entertain and please” ordinary people flourished. By spending money on all the different available goods the colonists “tasted comfort and luxury and increasingly called it happiness.”
By the middle of the eighteenth century the British had created “something genuinely new, an empire of consumer colonies.” Over a quarter of all Britain’s overseas exports went to the North American mainland colonies. With much detail Breen describes how all these goods were distributed in the American marketplace, through chains of “countless small transactions” from the merchant importers in the urban ports to the country traders and shopkeepers. All were held together by liberal extensions of credit, from the exporting British merchants to the importing colonial merchants, from the importers to the country traders, from the traders to the storekeepers, and from the storekeepers to consumers everywhere. Since credit was based on reputation, appearance was everything. Any doubts about a borrower’s ability to pay his debts could mean the calling in of other debts, unraveling the precarious structure of credit. Of course, then as now, the Americans’ desires for consumer goods outpaced their capacity to pay for them, and they ran up increasing debts and balance of payments deficits with the mother country. By the eve of the Revolution the colonists owed British creditors over £4 million, half of it having been borrowed by Chesapeake planters.
By the time he is halfway or so through his book Breen has succeeded admirably in proving the widespread availability of imported British consumer goods in the eighteenth-century colonies. This part of his book is a model of careful historical reconstruction. No one has ever demonstrated as fully and as exhaustively the nature and extent of American buying in the eighteenth century. No one can doubt that the colonists, like their cousins in Great Britain, were great shoppers. But establishing this point is not Breen’s central aim. He wants to use the trend toward greater consumption not only to explain the emergence of American identity in the late eighteenth century but to establish as well an entirely new way of interpreting the beginnings of the American Revolution.
In order to do so Breen believes he has to displace what he calls “the ideological interpretation” of the origins of the Revolution, an interpretation associated with the work of Bernard Bailyn, which argues that Americans absorbed highly critical views of the corruption of the British system from England and became increasingly drawn to the prospect that new American institutions would embody republican virtues derived in part from the classical tradition.
Breen thinks that the ideological interpretation “evades hard issues.” It is, he writes, based on formal pamphlets rather than newspapers, which Breen assumes were the medium of the common people. Furthermore, he contends, the ideological interpretation does not explain how the ideas of British conspiracy and corruption were spread among a diverse population of ordinary people and then worked to mobilize those ordinary men and women into political resistance during the 1760s and 1770s, when the British authorities encountered a growing crisis in the colonies. “Finally,” he says, “ideological historians” tend to assign
extraordinary powers of motivation to abstract ideas without first demonstrating how these ideas provided an emotional link between the experiences of everyday life in diverse communities and families and the larger collectivity of Americans who actually achieved independence from Great Britain.
Quite an indictment—if it were true. Bailyn has said that his view that the primary cause of the Revolution lay in the ideology of the Americans is no more “intellectual” or “idealist” than “locating the origins of World War II in the fear and hatred of Nazism.” Other historians associated with the ideological interpretation have argued that peoples’ beliefs in no way preclude emphasizing other, more deeply rooted social explanations. In other words, concrete social and economic explanations for the Revolution can coexist with ideological explanations. Since humans necessarily give meaning to all their actions, ideas and underlying emotions and interests are simply the two sides of all human behavior.
Breen, however, seems to think of ideological and social explanations as mutually exclusive: emphasizing one necessarily takes away from the other. “If we begin an investigation of revolution with ideology—as many historians have done,” he writes, “we inevitably discount the social conditions that energized these ideas for the men and women who stood to lose the most in a conflict with Great Britain.”
What in his view were the social conditions that brought about the Revolution? Breen’s answer is complicated and nuanced and is not easily summarized. He believes that the consumption of large amounts of goods through the middle decades of the eighteenth century had led ordinary people to develop a latent sense of their power as consumers. That latent power, says Breen, gradually became manifest during the movements of the 1760s and 1770s to resist imperial authority by opposing the importation of British goods. By agreeing to boycott British imports, first in response to the Stamp Act in 1765, then again in reaction to the duties imposed by Britain between 1767 and 1770, and finally in a heated reply to Parliament’s Coercive Acts of 1774, which provided harsh penalties for defying the Crown as well as the imposition of military rule in Massachusetts, ordinary colonists learned the value of political sacrifice. They “reached out to each other through the channel of print” and came to trust one another; they created “a consumer public sphere” and were thus able to construct “in their own imaginations a nation that was not yet a nation.” Some people refused to sign and abide by the agreements to oppose British imports and, after 1774, the agreements to stop exports from the colonies and not to consume British goods at home, especially tea. Such people were ostracized and intimidated, often by the threat of being tarred and feathered. This, says Breen, was “consumer politics” in action.
Having inveterate shoppers abandon their recently acquired pleasures of consuming by opposing importation of goods they continued to desire seems contrary to everything Breen has said in the first half of his book. But that is precisely the point of his interpretation: “the success of a general boycott depended on a consumer public.” Breen’s “consumer politics” necessarily emphasizes the willingness of ordinary people, including women, to sacrifice personal consumption for a political cause, the common good of the emerging American community. Forget all that talk of classical republican virtue, says Breen; this was “consumer virtue,” “bourgeois virtue,” or “market virtue.” Unlike elitist classical virtue, consumer virtue was available to everyone, even women. All one had to do was voluntarily exercise self-restraint in the marketplace:
Virtue of this sort encouraged ordinary people to join with distant strangers—consumers of the continent—in making a genuine sacrifice for their rights within the empire.
How did the sacrifice of goods become identified with rights? Breen answers that question by performing one of the several sleights of hand that he uses in making his argument. The colonists, he writes, began to think of “the objects of market desire…increasingly in terms of political principle.” They made “a mental link” between British goods and their own rights and came “to conflate a perceived loss of freedom with their own participation in the consumer marketplace.” During the eighteenth century ordinary people confronted with an increasing variety of goods had learned to make choices, and this “act of choosing could be liberating, even empowering, for it allowed them to determine for themselves what the process of self-fashioning was all about.” Consequently, “for such men and women choice in the consumer marketplace gradually merged with a discourse of rights.” Thus the movements against imports from Great Britain contributed not only to bringing forth “an imagined national community” but also to documenting “a key moment in the history of liberal thought.”
This is a very imaginative argument, but unfortunately it seems to be almost entirely an act of imagination. Breen offers us very little evidence of concrete political or social conditions to back it up. His evidence is taken almost exclusively from the newspapers, from the writings of “the sort of persons who contributed to the popular press,” whoever they might be. For someone who disparages historians who have tried to argue that ideas were important in bringing on the Revolution, Breen spends almost all his time analyzing nothing but ideas, although in his case the ideas are drawn from newspapers and were, he suggests, the ideas of ordinary people. They were, he writes, taking part in a “parallel discourse” with what he believes are the elitist ideas about rights and liberty found in learned political pamphlets. Contrary to Breen’s supposition, however, the presumably elitist ideas drawn from pamphlets also appeared everywhere in newspapers, private correspondence, and the many communal resolutions of the period and were very much a part of ordinary people’s thinking. Although we have no idea who wrote the pseudonymous newspaper articles Breen cites and what the authors’ purposes might have been, he nevertheless uses these writings to illustrate or prove all of his very imaginative generalizations.
Breen is right about the importance of the movements against importation: they were “a bold new form of political protest.” But Breen’s interpretation of these movements is what is in question. Without the “consumer politics” of these boycotts, Breen thinks Americans would never have gotten to know one another and acquired the trust necessary to sustain a revolution. This is the main argument of his book.
Breen contends that his interpretation of the origins of the Revolution is superior to the ideological interpretation because his interpretation accounts for the process and timing of the Revolution:
Only after a series of crises provoked by an increasingly aggressive Parliament did Americans manage to achieve the degree of mutual trust required to sustain a successful bid for independence.
This idea of “an increasingly aggressive Parliament,” at least before 1774, seems very questionable. Far from becoming more and more aggressive, Parliament in the 1760s retreated at every confrontation, so much so that the historians Robert W. Tucker and David C. Hendrickson have accused the British of appeasement. But Breen’s argument requires that he show that the Revolution could not have come earlier than it did. Ordinary people needed time to “reach out” to one another up and down the continent in order to “bring forth an imagined national community.”
Hence he has to minimize the impact of Parliament’s Stamp Act in 1765, which required that all newspapers, legal documents, and other forms of publicly circulated paper bear a prescribed stamp; the revenues from this stamp tax were to be used for colonial defense. Why didn’t the Revolution occur then? he asks. The fact that Parliament quickly repealed the Stamp Act, ending American protests, is not enough for Breen. Something else had to be involved or his argument is in trouble. The colonists “had not yet learned to reach out effectively to each other across the boundaries of social class and physical geography.” They hadn’t yet developed “a sense of mutual trust” that would give them confidence that Americans in different places would support one another.
To sustain this argument Breen has to play down the significance of the Stamp Act Congress, which met in New York in October 1765 to protest the new law. In fact, Breen never describes the congress, an extraordinary and unprecedented display of colonial unity and mutual trust; he simply dismisses as unsuccessful its attempts to give voice to the colonists’ grievance. But the congress was actually quite successful in setting forth the American position. Although only nine colonies were able to send delegates—Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia were prevented from participating because their governors refused to convene their assemblies to elect delegates—assemblies up and down the continent endorsed the congress’s conclusion that the colonists could be taxed only by their own representative legislatures. This was the basic position that Americans set forth at the outset in 1765 and they never deviated from it.
With the Stamp Act’s repeal the colonists weren’t yet ready for rebellion, but, contrary to Breen, some of them did not need to undertake a boycott of consumer goods in order to acquire a sense of being American. Already in the Stamp Act Congress Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina, one of the more influential radical leaders, dismissed regional and provincial loyalties and declared that all of the delegates ought to think of themselves as “Americans.” The move- ments to ban goods from arriving at the various ports followed from the display of unity by the congress; they did not cause that unity. Americans may not have needed a decade to get to know one another after all. If the British major in charge of Fort George during the Stamp Act riots in New York on November 1, 1765, had actually fired upon the crowd and killed nine hundred persons, as he later claimed he could have done, the American Revolution may very well have begun then and there.
To examine Breen’s argument further we have to look more closely at the significance of rising consumption in the eighteenth century. Breen is correct in stressing its importance, but I don’t believe he has captured the half of it. Traditionally consumption was regarded as both the privilege and the obligation of the aristocracy and gentry, that is, all those who did not have to work with their hands for a living. Gentlemen saw themselves as patrons of the great working populace and responded to unemployment among the laboring ranks by ordering another pair of boots or a new hat. In the seventeenth century Thomas Mun had argued that “the purse of the rich” maintained the poor, and in the eighteenth century Montesquieu still agreed: “If the rich do not spend so lavishly,” he wrote, “the poor would die.” When unemployed silk workers rioted in London in 1765, King George III’s natural reaction was to make sure that the ladies of his court ordered expensive silk gowns for the next ball. “To be born for no other Purpose than to consume the Fruits of the Earth,” wrote Henry Fielding in 1751,
is the Privilege (if it may be really called a Privilege) of a very few. The greater Part of Mankind must sweat hard to produce them, or Society will no longer answer the Purposes for which it was ordained.
Sir Joseph Banks, the famous botanist, echoed this thought. He even worried that British farmers were growing too rich; by sending their sons to college to become “Lawyers, Parsons, Doctors, etc.” they were turning them “into Gentleman Consumers and not Providers of Food.”
In the eighteenth century the rapidly increasing consumption by ordinary people of goods that hitherto had been the preserve of a tiny minority produced a revolution in the English-speaking world. It dramatically confused the social order and in the minds of elites created something of a social crisis, provoking a serious debate over luxury. Luxury was relative to social rank; much of what a gentleman needed a commoner did not, and thus many of the necessities of a gentleman—silk shirts, for example—were a common man’s luxuries. When common people bought silk shirts and other luxury items, this seemed to be a serious social vice and a symptom of social disarray. Although some intellectuals like David Hume defended the spread of luxury, most gentry on both sides of the Atlantic feared and condemned it, and urged common working people to be frugal and industrious and not spend money on goods that were beyond their capacities and social rank.
Breen is aware of this debate over luxury, but largely dismisses it as the griping of a tiny minority of hypocritical “moral critics” and “incensed conservative commentators.” We have “to avoid becoming caught up in a moral vocabulary of the eighteenth century,” he says. “We have no interest in keeping servants and maids in their place.” It seems astonishing for a historian to say that we should not take seriously the ideas and language of a different and distant world. Breen cites examples of the gentry’s becoming disturbed over the inclinations of ordinary folk “to finery” and their purchase of “superfluous things,” but doesn’t explore the implications of these examples. Instead, he equates these eighteenth-century condemnations of luxury with modern elitist criticisms of ordinary people’s excessive consumption.
Thus when Breen discusses the boycotts and movements against importation of the 1760s and 1770s, he is unwilling to accept the variety of motives and interests involved. For the sake of his argument the “non-importation” movements had to involve large numbers of ordinary, middle-level consumers who “took the lead in demanding consumer sacrifice in the name of liberty.” Using pseudonymous newspaper articles as his evidence, he concludes that imported goods suddenly “crystallized previously inchoate assumptions about colonial dependency and compelled colonial Americans to reassess the implications of liberal choice in an imperial marketplace.” In Breen’s opinion the earlier moral condemnations of consumption now took on a new patriotic meaning, and the once pleasure-seeking consumers learned “to forgo private pleasures in order to advance the public welfare.” It was the self-denial of these patriotic consumers drawn from the “middling” ranks of the society—ordinary farmers, tradesmen, and artisans, for example—that made the Revolution possible.
Since Breen’s story is essentially about the mobilization of these patriotic middling consumers, there’s not much place in it for leadership by the gentry. But the gentry were in fact involved in many of the movements against imports, and insofar as they led them, they tended to see their participation in the traditional manner of granting or withholding patronage. Since they thought of their own consumption as a kind of indulgence or favor extended to the producers who were dependent on their patronage, their refusal to consume became a form of punishment of English suppliers. Contrary to what Breen suggests, the American leaders did not have to learn that they had power as consumers; that power was inherent in their traditional status as genteel patrons. Of course, given the importance of American consumption in the mid-eighteenth century, the colonial leaders also realized that blocking the importation of British goods might be an effective weapon in their contest with the mother country. British workers might be thrown out of work, riots might ensue, and pressure would be brought to bear on the British government to repeal their taxation of Americans.
Since the boycotts and movements against importation are so essential to Breen’s argument, it is surprising how little attention he actually pays to the politics and details of how they worked. If the movements led Americans, “like inexperienced lovers,” to reach out to each other and develop trust, they weren’t very successful. In fact, the movements against importation revealed that urban merchant communities everywhere were very much in disarray. At the outset, in 1765 and 1766, big dry goods merchants in the main ports cooperated remarkably in opposing imports, largely because they had overstocked inventories that they needed to get rid of; and they were eager to put out of business new competitors such as “mushroom traders” and “vendue sales,” which as Breen puts it “are best imagined as a combination of the modern flea market and wholesale auction.”
But between 1767 and 1770 their inventories were depleted, and they became much less enthusiastic about the boycotts. Merchants and cities competed with one another; and with the spreading rivalries and violations of the agreements, the non-importation agreements slowly unraveled. Far from encouraging trust, the boycott movements between 1767 and 1770 seem to have aggravated divisions among Americans. Breen admits that enforcement of the agreements was “spotty” between 1767 and 1770, which meant, he says, that “ordinary men and women” were not yet “willing to take direction and personal responsibility for their own actions…in the marketplace.” Only when Britain, in response to the Boston Tea Party, finally moved decisively and angrily in 1774 and imposed the Coercive Acts did Americans come together in a unified response.
The colonists, however, did not need, as Breen argues, a decade of getting to know one another as an “imagined moral force” in “a consumer public sphere” to bring them together in 1774. The extreme severity of the Coersive Acts, or the “Intolerable Acts,” as the colonists called them, which included closing the port of Boston, altering the Massachusetts charter, and imposing military rule on the colony—was by itself a sufficient explanation for decisions by the colonists to call the Continental Congress and undertake the final confrontation with Great Britain. If the Coercive Acts had been passed in 1764 instead of 1774, the colonists’ response would have been very similar. After all, look how solidly and violently they reacted to the Stamp Act of 1765, and that act was mild compared to the Coercive Acts.
Despite the importance of the nonimportation movements to his interpretation, Breen, beyond saying they were composed of middling sorts, pays little attention to the people who took part in them. This is understandable, since the diverse and clashing interests of the individuals and groups who supported the boycott of British goods bring his argument into question. Petty merchants involved in the coastwise trade, smugglers, West Indian traders, and merchants with growing interests in regions outside the empire naturally backed movements against imports that would not affect them but might cut some of their larger competitors down to size or even put them out of business.1 The overextended Virginia gentry had their own reasons for supporting the boycott of British goods. In a letter George Washington wrote to George Mason in 1769 (not quoted by Breen), Washington observed that there were private advantages as well as public ones in not consuming British goods. It would, he told Mason, enable the heavily indebted Virginia gentry to cut back on their expenses without losing face or their reputation for gentility.
To believe, as Breen does, that it was consumers and only consumers who dominated the movements against imports and the mobilization of patriots seems mistaken. After all, the 20 percent of the population that remained loyal to the British crown were consumers too, many of them middling consumers, and their consumption had no effect on their patriotic trust and identity. Furthermore, the Continental Congress in 1774 did more than prohibit the consumption of British goods; it also banned cockfighting, horse-racing, and the theater. In fact, as the historian Ann Fairfax Withington pointed out in 1991 (in a book not cited by Breen), opposition to imports and to high consumption became part of a larger program of moral reform that congressional leaders were engaged in.2
The one major middling group that actively participated in the boycott movements did so not as consumers but as producers. Artisans and mechanics who wanted to manufacture some of the goods that Americans were importing naturally had a vested interest in stopping imports of British goods. For the sake of his interpretation Breen has to ignore them, even though what evidence we have suggests that artisans and mechanics were major participants both in the anti-British “Sons of Liberty” organizations and in the enforcement of the boycotts.
Recognizing the self-interest of artisans in boycotting would undermine much of Breen’s argument that opposition to imports was a widespread expression of patriotic self-sacrifice by ordinary people who loved to consume. Breen therefore has to dismiss out of hand all talk of developing colonial manufacturing as a means of reducing American dependency on British manufactured goods. “Surely,” he says, this talk of manufacturing was merely “an unintended consequence of public discussion about non-importation.” Manufacturing in the colonies was “thin on the ground.” Besides, Breen says, no farmer wanted to become a manufacturer. No one seriously wanted to stop consuming imported British goods, and “no one really believed that homespun cloth would make a difference.”
But manufacturing in the colonies was becoming far more important than Breen is willing to admit. Better roads, more reliable information about markets, and the greater number and variety of new towns all encouraged domestic manufacturing for local, regional, and intercolonial markets. By 1768 colonial manufacturers were supplying Pennsylvania with eight thousand pairs of shoes a year. People in some towns seemed to be doing everything but farming. In 1767 the town of Haverill, Massachusetts, with fewer than three hundred residents, had forty-four workshops and nineteen mills. By the 1760s the growing number of immigrants and ex-soldiers who were becoming mechanics and craftsmen in Philadelphia alarmed British authorities worried about American manufacturing competition. These mechanics and manufacturers made up a large proportion of the ordinary people who took the lead in enforcing the boycotts of British goods in the port cities. Contrary to Breen’s argument, their support of a boycott was anything but an act of “consumer virtue.” They were not primarily consumers but producers who were eager to develop their own trades and businesses.
Breen is correct in emphasizing the importance of middling Americans and their liberal ideology of rights. Their emergence in business and politics was the most significant social consequence of the American Revolution. But it was not their role as consumers that made them significant. Many of them opposed importation of British goods for other reasons. With the end of the war with Britain in 1783 Americans enthusiastically renewed their consumption of British manufactured goods. And many American leaders, especially Jefferson and Madison, continued to believe that limiting Britain’s access to the American market was the best weapon they had in dealing with the former mother country.
That policy, then as earlier, naturally fit the self-interested desires of American mechanics and manufacturers. Inevitably these artisans and producers became solid backers of the Jeffersonian Republican Party, which made extraordinary efforts to restrict the importation of British manufactures—efforts that led to America’s great experiment in peaceful coercion, the Embargo of 1807–1808, and culminated in the War of 1812. Following that war domestic manufacturing boomed, and Americans came to see that the artisans and manufacturers had been right all along. The future of America’s nineteenth-century prosperity lay in producing and manufacturing most of its own goods. America became a commercial and consuming world within itself.
June 10, 2004
John W. Tyler’s book, The First Revolution: Boston Merchants and the Acts of Trade, 1760–1774 (Princeton University Press, 1980), examines the involvement of Boston’s competitive and divided merchant community in the nonimportation movements in a detailed manner that Breen avoids. ↩
Ann Fairfax Withington, Toward a More Perfect Union: Virtue and the Formation of American Republics (Oxford University Press, 1991). ↩