The Revolution Is Now Begun: The Radical Committees of Philadelphia, 1765-1776

The Revolution Is Now Begun: The Radical Committees of Philadelphia, 1765-1776

The Revolution Is Now Begun: The Radical Committees of Philadelphia, 1765-1776

The Revolution Is Now Begun: The Radical Committees of Philadelphia, 1765-1776

Synopsis

The success of the American Revolution is less likely to be understood through an examination of its ideological origins than through a close analysis of the political processes by which principles, beliefs, and anxieties were translated into revolutionary action. This book offers the first detailed profile of the several hundred obscure committeemen and propagandists who took up the new revolutionary ideology and carried it that one last step: out of the realm of rhetoric and into the domain of concrete change. And participatory democracy as a principle of American government owes its realization largely to these second-rank politicians and ordinary citizens, who provided the basic muscle of Revolutionary politics.

In the 1760s and early 1770s Pennsylvania lacked nearly every ingredient for revolution found elsewhere in the colonies: a strong dissenting tradition, widely felt economic grievances, or a legislature intimately acquainted with royal government. Only the painstaking enlistment of a strong leadership core, the construction of new political institutions, and the rapid mobilization of the majority of the community could overcome these deficiencies. In Pennsylvania British authority succumbed to the activity of a few hundred men who were drawn into public life by a handful of veteran politicians within just two years. To these men and to their committees Pennsylvania owes its revolution.

In his book Richard Alan Ryerson focuses on the daily business of politics in the Revolutionary period--the art of motivation for radical political purposes--and its economic and social dimensions in the most prominent American city of the time. How were the colonists mobilized for resistance? What was the political process? Who were the disaffected people who became the radical leaders of the Philadelphia community?

To answer these questions, Ryerson compares campaigning styles, nomination and election procedures, and local political organizations in the colonial era with their counterparts during the Revolution. He also examines the age, economic status, religious faith, and national origins of the men who formed the radical committees of Philadelphia between 1765 and 1776.

Excerpt

In the last quarter century, renewed interest in the American Revolution has generated several excellent studies of the rhetoric, ideology, and psychology of that event. Taken together, these diverse inquiries now afford one comprehensive answer to the question, “Why was there a Revolution?” Yet to establish the perspective upon which this achievement rests, scholars have had to view the Revolution very broadly. Ignoring considerable variation in detail, they have regarded Revolutionary thought as a coherent entity. The object of much recent scholarship—to understand the Revolution in ideological terms—has demanded of its interpreters an overriding commitment to the study of dominant, articulate voices.

But contemporary scholarship’s concomitant rejection of an earlier and quite different interpretation of the Revolution has not been without adverse effects. As historians have discarded the view of the Revolution developed by scholars in the Progressive era, they have all too often abandoned their predecessors’ interest in political, economic, and social conflict in the Revolutionary era as well. So thorough has been this shift in focus that many historians, in asking why there was a Revolution with ever greater precision, have largely ceased to inquire exactly how that event progressed from inception to completion.

Strictly within the realm of ideology, to be sure, Revolutionary scholars are tackling questions of process. Moreover, as the ideological school of interpretation has become more sophisticated, it has devoted increasing attention to conflict in Revolutionary America. But in the extensive new literature on the Revolution

1. Compare the strong “consensus” implications of Edmund S. and Helen M. Morgan, The Stamp Act Crisis; Prologue to Revolution (1953), and Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967); the more extensive recognition of elements of discord among Revolutionary-era Americans in Bailyn, The Origins of American Politics (1968); and the heavy emphasis upon internal ideological and socio-economic conflict in Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787 (1969), esp. chap. 12, “The Worthy against the Licentious.”

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