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America's Revolutionary Insurgents12:42

This article is more than 10 years old.

The Stamp Act of 1765. The Boston Tea Party of 1773. The Coercive Acts of 1774. When we think of the American Revolution, we think of a fuse that, once lit, burned slowly but steadily, fanned by the political philosophies of Enlightenment thinkers and the spirits of the Founding Fathers. Their names ring out this time of year like so many M-80s bursting overhead.

But what was happening away from the stately manors of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington? What was happening in the farms and villages of the vast majority of regular colonists? Many of these not-yet-Americans had just fought for the British in the French and Indian War. A few years later, they would turn against King George III and his empire with passion and violence.

In Brunswick, Maine, once well-behaved townsmen forced a loyalist to dig his own grave. In the small town of Camden, N.H., local men and women forced a parliamentary sympathizer to straddle a fence rail as they beat him. That man, John Taylor, bled to death.

So what was it that drove these average colonists to violent protest? Taxes, political theory, a nascent urge to democracy? How did outrage that first brewed in colonial villages develop into a movement that inspired the founding fathers and then led to the government the United States has today?

Historian Tim Breen offers some surprising answers.


  • Tim Breen, professor of American History at Northwestern University, author of "American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People"

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