The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence

The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence

The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence

The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence

Synopsis

The Marketplace of Revolution offers a boldly innovative interpretation of the mobilization of ordinary Americans on the eve of independence. Breen explores how colonists who came from very different ethnic and religious backgrounds managed to overcome difference and create a common cause capable of galvanizing resistance. In a richly interdisciplinary narrative that weaves insights into a changing material culture with analysis of popular political protests, Breen shows how virtual strangers managed to communicate a sense of trust that effectively united men and women long before they had established a nation of their own. The Marketplace of Revolution argues that the colonists' shared experience as consumers in a new imperial economy afforded them the cultural resources that they needed to develop a radical strategy of political protest--the consumer boycott. Never before had a mass political movement organized itself around disruption of the marketplace. As Breen demonstrates, often through anecdotes about obscure Americans, communal rituals of shared sacrifice provided an effective means to educate and energize a dispersed populace. The boycott movement--the signature of American resistance--invited colonists traditionally excluded from formal political processes to voice their opinions about liberty and rights within a revolutionary marketplace, an open, raucous public forum that defined itself around subscription lists passed door-to-door, voluntary associations, street protests, destruction of imported British goods, and incendiary newspaper exchanges. Within these exchanges was born a new form of politics in which ordinary man and women--precisely the people most often overlooked in traditional accounts of revolution--experienced an exhilarating surge of empowerment. Breen recreates an "empire of goods" that transformed everyday life during the mid-eighteenth century. Imported manufactured items flooded into the homes of colonists from New Hampshire to Georgia. The Marketplace of Revolution explains how at a moment of political crisis Americans gave political meaning to the pursuit of happiness and learned how to make goods speak to power.

Excerpt

I would be hard pressed to identify the precise moment when simple curiosity about the character of daily life in colonial times became the basis for a book on the coming of the American Revolution. As I now remember it, the inspiration occurred many years ago in the Wallace Gallery, a museum that is part of Colonial Williamsburg. It is located quite literally deep below the surface of the ground, indeed, in the basement of a nineteenth-century hospital. The gallery offers visitors a rare treat. It houses a splendid collection of manufactured goods imported into America from Europe during the eighteenth century. These are not the things that usually draw modern visitors to Williamsburg. Such people seem to prefer spending their time among the craftsmen who tell them how a revolutionary generation made various household items such as furniture or candles. Perhaps these products strike tourists as more authentic, or as more American, than do the imported articles displayed in the Wallace Gallery.

I much prefer the British goods that were shipped so long ago to the colonial markets. In their presence, one senses immediately how a small piece of Staffordshire pottery or a handsomely designed buckle might have brought pleasure into the life of some obscure American consumer. By introducing vibrant colors into the poorly illuminated rooms of colonial houses, imported manufactures made the world of ordinary men and women come alive. Within a few decades during the middle of the eighteenth century, imported goods transformed monochrome spaces into Technicolor. Walking among the display cases containing ceramics and metal ware, textiles and prints, the visitor imagines how these things allowed people whose names have long since been forgotten to fashion themselves in ways that made them feel prettier, more successful, and more informed. Imported goods reflected cosmopolitan tastes and manners, so that an American who managed to purchase a porcelain teacup or a modest pewter bowl could . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.