Book Reviews -- the Price of Nationhood: The American Revolution in Charles County by Jean B. Lee

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The Price of Nationhood: The American Revolution in Charles County. By JEAN B. LEE. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1994. xv, 388 pp. $29.95.

THE people of Charles County on Maryland's lower western shore paid a high price for nationhood in the revolutionary era. According to Jean B. Lee, the war and its aftermath destroyed the county's stability and transformed it from a prosperous and cosmopolitan place into a declining backwater community. The republican ideology that accompanied independence did encourage a somewhat more open and egalitarian society. Yet little change occurred in the distribution of wealth and power.

In the late colonial period, a diverse but tobacco-dominated economy supported a stable society. A white male elite enjoyed more wealth, power, and freedom than did women, poorer white males, Catholics, and African Americans. The movement toward revolution partially undermined this established order. Resistance to British regulations sanctioned the use of extralegal means against governmental authority at home. It also encouraged the recruiting of a wider circle of leaders and the political mobilization of greater numbers of ordinary people. Some patriots pressed local officials not to proceed with debt litigation, quitrent collection, and other matters, and during the early months of the war, loyalists, including some prominent and wealthy men, were forced into political silence or exile.

The war itself brought still greater changes. Although citizens initially supported the revolutionary cause, the growing cost of the continental war effort as well as the damage done locally by British naval incursions challenged leaders who tried to maintain popular support. Over time, however, the militia became more proficient at repelling British raiders. In meeting the Continental Army's demands for men and supplies, county leaders increasingly relied on persuasion and moderation rather than coercion. Given the hardships imposed by military service on soldiers and their families and the problems caused by scarcities of many commodities, shortages of government funds, and wartime inflation, the recruiting and provisioning efforts were remarkably successful. …