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American Insurgents, American Patriots

The Revolution of the People

Author: T. H. Breen

American Insurgents, American Patriots

American Insurgents, American Patriots


About This Book

Before there could be a revolution, there was a rebellion; before patriots, there were insurgents. Challenging and displacing decades of received wisdom, T. H. Breen's strikingly original book explains...

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Book Details

Before there could be a revolution, there was a rebellion; before patriots, there were insurgents. Challenging and displacing decades of received wisdom, T. H. Breen's strikingly original book explains how ordinary Americans—most of them members of farm families living in small communities—were drawn into a successful insurgency against imperial authority.

A few celebrated figures in the Continental Congress do not make for a revolution. It requires tens of thousands of ordinary men and women willing to sacrifice, kill, and be killed. Breen not only gives the history of these ordinary Americans but, drawing upon a wealth of rarely seen documents, restores their primacy to American independence. Mobilizing two years before the Declaration of Independence, American insurgents in all thirteen colonies concluded that resistance to British oppression required organized violence against the state. They channeled popular rage through elected committees of safety and observation, which before 1776 were the heart of American resistance. American Insurgents, American Patriots is the stunning account of the insurgency that led to the nation's founding.

Imprint Publisher

Hill and Wang



In The News

“Breen elegantly demonstrates how much we miss when our histories are focused principally on the Founding Fathers.” —Nicholas Guyatt, The Times Literary Supplement

“Generation after generation, students are taught that the Founders inspired a hesitant, though hardy, American populace to reclaim its rights . . . The truth is a good deal messier and more interesting. Historians in our own time--Mr. Breen, Gary B. Nash and Gordon S. Wood, among others--have shifted the emphasis to the common people.” —Alan Pell Crawford, The Wall Street Journal

“Founding Father John Adams, looking back at the heady and trying days of the American Revolution, famously wrote ‘the Revolution was effected before the war commenced.' T. H. Breen's new history sets out to fill in the detail -- showing that by the time embattled farmers ‘fired the shot heard round the world' in Concord in 1775, the battle had already been joined by tens of thousands of colonials . . . Breen's book shows an energetic and necessarily untidy process of invention on the part of a people, and captures well its improvisatory nature.” —Art Winslow, Chicago Tribune

“a scholarly, unnerving account of the American Revolution's darker side--the violence, death threats, false rumors, and extremist rhetoric that introduced a new political order” —Caleb Crain, The New Yorker

“In this compellingly structured and argued book, T.H. Breen asserts that a de facto nation came into existence between the spring and fall of 1774. It was in these crucial months that the people of the thirteen colonies -- not the Founding Fathers, not the Continental Army, not the maladroit British government -- executed a series of steps that collectively solved problems of governance and demonstrated how a republic could be successfully constituted. What's even more surprising is that Breen makes this somewhat counterintuitive argument, one rooted in a social history sensibility, in the form of a chronological narrative. He achieves this cohesion despite lacking a discrete sense of leading characters or a dramatic set of circumstances (the most consequential event of his story is actually a rumor). The result is a book that's highly readable as well as provocative.” —Jim Cullen, History News Network

American Insurgents, American Patriots is one of the most compelling accounts I've read of how ‘the people' forged the Revolution.” —Thomas S. Kidd, Books and Culture

American Insurgents, American Patriots is a much-needed corrective to the notion that the Revolution was the product solely of intellectuals and pamphleteers . . . Breen is especially good on reminding us of the passion that the mass of people -- whom he calls ‘insurgents' -- brought to the cause. He traces the role played by newspapers in firing up these rural folks and shows how their readiness to react, sometimes violently, fueled the cause of independence.” —Tony Lewis, Providence Journal

“Casting a wide net in his research to reconstruct the patchwork of grassroots rebellions and self-organized protests across the colonies. Breen is among the growing ranks of historians convincingly uncovering how the Founding Fathers followed and controlled, rather than precipitated, the move toward independence and democracy.” —American History

“T. H. Breen's American Insurgents, American Patriots is a pioneering and riveting new analysis of how America was born. Skirting the whole Founding Fathers phenomena, Breen champions instead the everyman of the pre-revolution as a brave citizens' brigade of change. A landmark achievement!” —Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History at Rice University and official CBS News Historian

“The Founding Fathers have all the honor they need. Now it's time to honor the ordinary men and women who T. H. Breen brilliantly assays in this riveting book on the crucial run-up to the Declaration of Independence. He shows how people from small farming communities, risking all, purged the countryside of royal officials, dismantled royal authority, shuttered court houses, and defied the King's troops. In this tautly constructed book, Breen shows how much the bewigged Founding Fathers owed to those beneath them, and how much we owe to the plain-spoken, inconspicuous, and roughened colonial insurgents who are the unsung heroes of the American Revolution.” —Gary B. Nash, author of The Unknown American Revolution

“Who made the American Revolution? Not the men who typically get the most credit for it, says T.H. Breen in American Insurgents, American Patriots. This bracing and impassioned recounting of the origins of America's break with Great Britain puts ‘the people'--ordinary men and women--back into their rightful place in the story. Sure to provoke discussion, Breen's work is a much-needed and welcome addition to the literature on the founding of the American nation.” —Annette Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

“T. H. Breen's revisionist page-turner recaptures the ungentlemanly labors of Colonial America's dangerous classes, those vigilantes, night riders, and terrorists who made the Revolution possible even before Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Paine proclaimed its necessity. There is sobering contemporary relevance here for Americans about great empires and the violent resistance they spawn in the name of freedom.” —David Levering Lewis, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

“In this engaging book, Breen tells the vivid stories of thousands of ordinary Americans who made an extraordinary revolution. American Insurgents, American Patriots reminds us that we have many more Founding Mothers and Fathers than we usually recognize. Breen deftly explores the American Revolution in its full social depth, revealing how it affected everyone: the rich and poor, free and slave, and Patriot and Loyalist.” —Alan Taylor, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

“Breen has uncovered the grass roots of the American Revolution in the unheralded acts of ordinary people. Meeting in towns and villages throughout the colonies, they gave public notice that they no longer consented to British rule. Without the prompting of the leaders who have figured so largely in standard histories, they established their own independence well before Thomas Jefferson and company declared it in their famous document.” —Edmund Morgan, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

American Insurgents, American Patriots reveals startling details of the alienation and anger that pervaded the minds of thousands of Americans long before shots were fired on Lexington Green. This is a book that deepens our understanding of the American Revolution--and it's a great read in the bargain!” —Thomas Fleming, author of Washington's Secret War: The Hidden History of Valley Forge

“This compelling narrative examines the lives of ordinary Americans who in the years 1774 and 1775 led the way to American independence. The book's great merit is to describe the foundation that an insurgency of common people constructed for the building of a new nation.” —Mark A. Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame

“T. H. Breen restores the people to their proper place in our understanding of the coming of the American Revolution. Showing how popular anger at misguided British policies was channeled into political and military action, Breen gives us fresh perspectives on the ways ordinary Americans mobilized themselves for war and helped create a new nation. Beautifully written and powerfully argued, American Insurgents, American Patriots should attract a wide and grateful readership.” —Peter S. Onuf, author of Jefferson's Empire: The Language of American Nationhood

“Breen's account restores a vivid sense of what the American Revolution felt like to the brave men and women who lived through its enormous ups and downs, and its everyday violence as well. With a scholar's command and a writer's sympathy, he infuses a world of meaning into the word ‘insurgent'-- an apt description for the Americans who were turning the known world upside down.” —Ted Widmer, Director and Librarian, John Carter Brown Library

“If earlier authors convinced you that Americans owe their independence to a handful of ‘founding brothers,' you will be fascinated by T. H. Breen's persuasive demonstration that the Founders of the republic could not have succeeded--and might not have tried--without support and pressure from tens of thousands of ordinary Patriots who recognized that sometimes leaders need to be led.” —Woody Holton, author of Abigail Adams

“Casting a new light on the origins of the struggle for independence, Breen mines letters, sermons and diaries to create a lively, nuanced account of ordinary farmers' growing resistance to the British government in the two years before the Declaration of Independence. Angry at oppressive parliamentary acts that abrogated their God-given rights, tens of thousands of rebellious insurgents laid the groundwork for a successful revolution. Their anger was every bit as important to the revolutionary story as the learned debates of the Founding Fathers . . . An important new view of a revolution in the making.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Breen presents a provocative reinterpretation of the American Revolution as more of a grassroots movement of ordinary persons . . . This is a valuable book by a distinguished scholar.” —Publishers Weekly

About the Creators

American Insurgents, American Patriots

American Insurgents, American Patriots