OVERRIDE

Independence: The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution

Thomas P. Slaughter

Hill and Wang

An important new interpretation of the American colonists’ 150-year struggle to achieve independence

“What do we mean by the Revolution?” John Adams asked Thomas Jefferson in 1815. "The war? That was no part of the Revolution. It was only an effect and consequence of it." As the distinguished historian Thomas P. Slaughter shows in this landmark book, the long process of revolution reached back more than a century before 1776, and it touched on virtually every aspect of the colonies’ laws, commerce, social structures, religious sentiments, family ties, and political interests. And Slaughter’s comprehensive work makes clear that the British who chose to go to North America chafed under imperial rule from the start, vigorously disputing many of the colonies’ founding charters.

When the British said the Americans were typically "independent," they meant to disparage them as lawless and disloyal. But the Americans insisted on their moral courage and political principles, and regarded their independence as a great virtue, as they regarded their love of freedom and their loyalty to local institutions. Over the years, their struggles to define this independence took many forms, and Slaughter’s compelling narrative takes us from New England and Nova Scotia to New York and Pennsylvania, and south to the Carolinas, as colonists resisted unsympathetic royal governors, smuggled to evade British duties on imported goods (tea was only one of many), and, eventually, began to organize for armed uprisings.

Britain, especially after its victories over France in the 1750s, was eager to crush these rebellions, but the Americans’ opposition only intensified, as did dark conspiracy theories about their enemies—whether British, Native American, or French.

In Independence, Slaughter resets and clarifies the terms in which we may understand this remarkable evolution, showing how and why a critical mass of colonists determined that they could not be both independent and subject to the British Crown. By 1775–76, they had become revolutionaries—going to war only reluctantly, as a last-ditch means to preserve the independence that they cherished as a birthright.

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1

BORDERLANDS

 

BY THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY, both French and English fishermen were working the waters around Cape Breton, or Île Royale, today part of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, and trading with the Abenaki and Micmac peoples who had lived and fished there for centuries.2 Norse or Viking, possibly Irish, and other European fishermen and explorers had also frequented the region for hundreds of years. The Venetian explorer Giovanni Caboto, also known as John Cabot, passed that way in the fifteenth century; the English captain Charles Leigh recorded making landfall

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Praise for Independence: The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution

Praise for Independence:

“Thomas P. Slaughter has done a magnificent job in reinterpreting how the United States was born, and he ably shows us how inflamed the American colonists were by the British Crown from the seventeenth century on. His scholarship is impeccable. I highly recommend his book.” —Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University and historian for CBS News

“Part of the task of the historian is to navigate the reader through the mists of the past and arrive at a new place of understanding. Thomas Slaughter has done just that with his new interpretation of the American Revolution, Independence: The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution. The book takes the reader beyond the familiar area of what happened in the revolution and instead focuses on the less familiar areas of why . . . Slaughter’s book provides a wealth of research that is fastened together into a coherent, brisk narrative. Anyone interested in learning about the roots of conflict that help explain the American Revolution should make sure to read this book.” —Kasey S. Pipes, The Dallas Morning News

“Only bold historians will attempt one-volume histories of the American Revolution’s origins; Slaughter brings his off brilliantly. Rarely, if ever, has this history been told with such graceful readability, freshness, and clarity. It’s mostly narrative history, with Slaughter, a biographer and historian of American naturalists and the early republic, avoiding academic arguments while introducing some of the latest academic perspectives. The major one is to place the coming of the Revolution in its world-historical context and show how colonial events were linked to developments in India, Europe, and elsewhere. Slaughter’s . . . organizing theme is applied lightly and never intrudes on the hard-to-put-down tale, filled with apt quotations and captivating human portraits . . . As a political, event-filled history of its subject, this masterful work is unsurpassed.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Mr. Slaughter’s book makes one thing refreshingly clear. Americans of the 1770s did not seek to destroy or to cast off but to claim what they assumed had been theirs all along.” —Barton Swaim, The Wall Street Journal

“Finely researched . . . Slaughter looks carefully at the influence on the colonies of Britain’s empire-making across the globe, from India to the Ohio Valley, Nova Scotia to the Caribbean . . . The author underscores the vastly different views about "independence" versus "separation" held by the British and the colonists. The British were bewildered by the colonists’ pursuit of "anarchy and confusion," while the colonists were first and foremost deeply rooted in a sense of personal liberty of conscience above any act of government. Erudite and fascinating.” —Kirkus

“While the book bears a superficial resemblance to a more general work on the subject . . . it goes significantly beyond by maintaining a clear concentration on the transformation of the concept of independence into the reason for armed resistance and warfare. The scope of the book is impressive, covering beyond the original 13 colonies. For example, Slaughter uses Nova Scotia to illustrate the emerging tension between British desire to control and colonists’ de facto independence on the fringe of the empire . . . A notable and stimulating title for both general readers and specialists interested not just in the immediate years leading to revolution but the many decades before.” —Charles K. Piehl, Library Journal

Praise for The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman, Apostle of Abolition

“Brilliantly written and researched . . . An extraordinary biography.” —Douglas Brinkley, Austin American-Statesman (Best Books of 2008)

“A thoughtful, scrupulous, enlightening, and engrossing masterpiece.” —Booklist (starred review)

Praise for Independence:

“Thomas P. Slaughter has done a magnificent job in reinterpreting how the United States was born, and he ably shows us how inflamed the American colonists were by the British Crown from the seventeenth century on. His scholarship is impeccable. I highly recommend his book.” —Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University and historian for CBS News

“Part of the task of the historian is to navigate the reader through the mists of the past and arrive at a new place of understanding. Thomas Slaughter has done just that with his new interpretation of the American Revolution, Independence: The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution. The book takes the reader beyond the familiar area of what happened in the revolution and instead focuses on the less familiar areas of why . . . Slaughter’s book provides a wealth of research that is fastened together into a coherent, brisk narrative. Anyone interested in learning about the roots of conflict that help explain the American Revolution should make sure to read this book.” —Kasey S. Pipes, The Dallas Morning News

“Only bold historians will attempt one-volume histories of the American Revolution’s origins; Slaughter brings his off brilliantly. Rarely, if ever, has this history been told with such graceful readability, freshness, and clarity. It’s mostly narrative history, with Slaughter, a biographer and historian of American naturalists and the early republic, avoiding academic arguments while introducing some of the latest academic perspectives. The major one is to place the coming of the Revolution in its world-historical context and show how colonial events were linked to developments in India, Europe, and elsewhere. Slaughter’s . . . organizing theme is applied lightly and never intrudes on the hard-to-put-down tale, filled with apt quotations and captivating human portraits . . . As a political, event-filled history of its subject, this masterful work is unsurpassed.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Mr. Slaughter’s book makes one thing refreshingly clear. Americans of the 1770s did not seek to destroy or to cast off but to claim what they assumed had been theirs all along.” —Barton Swaim, The Wall Street Journal

“Finely researched . . . Slaughter looks carefully at the influence on the colonies of Britain’s empire-making across the globe, from India to the Ohio Valley, Nova Scotia to the Caribbean . . . The author underscores the vastly different views about "independence" versus "separation" held by the British and the colonists. The British were bewildered by the colonists’ pursuit of "anarchy and confusion," while the colonists were first and foremost deeply rooted in a sense of personal liberty of conscience above any act of government. Erudite and fascinating.” —Kirkus

“While the book bears a superficial resemblance to a more general work on the subject . . . it goes significantly beyond by maintaining a clear concentration on the transformation of the concept of independence into the reason for armed resistance and warfare. The scope of the book is impressive, covering beyond the original 13 colonies. For example, Slaughter uses Nova Scotia to illustrate the emerging tension between British desire to control and colonists’ de facto independence on the fringe of the empire . . . A notable and stimulating title for both general readers and specialists interested not just in the immediate years leading to revolution but the many decades before.” —Charles K. Piehl, Library Journal

Praise for The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman, Apostle of Abolition

“Brilliantly written and researched . . . An extraordinary biography.” —Douglas Brinkley, Austin American-Statesman (Best Books of 2008)

“A thoughtful, scrupulous, enlightening, and engrossing masterpiece.” —Booklist (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Thomas P. Slaughter

  • Thomas P. Slaughter is the author of The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman, Apostle of Abolition (Hill and Wang, 2008) and four other books. He is the Arthur R. Miller Professor at the University of Rochester and the editor of Reviews in American History.
  • Thomas P. Slaughter © Richard Baker / University of Rochester
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    Thomas P. Slaughter

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