The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution

The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution

The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution

The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution


When the Revolutionary War began, the odds of a united, continental effort to resist the British seemed nearly impossible. Few on either side of the Atlantic expected thirteen colonies to stick together in a war against their cultural cousins. In this pathbreaking book, Robert Parkinson argues that to unify the patriot side, political and communications leaders linked British tyranny to colonial prejudices, stereotypes, and fears about insurrectionary slaves and violent Indians. Manipulating newspaper networks, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and their fellow agitators broadcast stories of British agents inciting African Americans and Indians to take up arms against the American rebellion. Using rhetoric like "domestic insurrectionists" and "merciless savages," the founding fathers rallied the people around a common enemy and made racial prejudice a cornerstone of the new Republic.

In a fresh reading of the founding moment, Parkinson demonstrates the dual projection of the "common cause." Patriots through both an ideological appeal to popular rights and a wartime movement against a host of British-recruited slaves and Indians forged a racialized, exclusionary model of American citizenship.


The first order of business was to clear the galleries. After all spectators had been escorted out of the chamber late in the afternoon of March 14, 1774— a “day of such importance”—the House of Commons opened debate on how to punish Boston for destroying nearly 100,000 pounds of the East India Company’s tea leaves. a week before, the king had informed Parliament of the “violent and outrageous Proceedings” that had taken place in Boston Harbor the past December and sought legislation “for better securing the Execution of the Laws, and the just Dependence of the Colonies upon the Crown and Parliament of Great Britain.” For the remainder of March, Parliament debated the Boston Port Bill, the first of what would later be known as the set of punitive measures called the Coercive Acts. the sticking point was whether Boston should be singled out. Lord North insisted that Boston was the “ringleader in all riots” and therefore “ought to be the principal object of our attention for punishment.”

Focusing their wrath on Massachusetts made sense. Despite the myriad things they did not recognize about the colonial complaints, the North ministry was certain that American unity was impossible. the prevailing wisdom in Britain, continually reinforced by colonial correspondents, imperial officials, military officers, returning travelers, and Atlantic merchants, was that the resistance movement in America was anything but universal. the mainland American colonies, they were sure—and reassured—could never sustain a united front. the thirteen colonies simply could not get along with one another. Since Boston could not count on any steady friends, there was no need for a general interdiction. Or, as another member of Parliament

1. R. C. Simmons and P. D. G. Thomas, eds., Proceedings and Debates of the British Parliaments respecting North America, 1754–1783 (White Plains, N.Y., 1982–), iv, 31, 55–82 (Mar. 14, 1774, debate), esp. 55, 79. See also [William Cobbett], ed., The Parliamentary History of England: From the Earliest Period to the Year 1803…. (London, 1806–1820), xvii, 1159, 1163–1184.

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