Ep. 14: Popular Protest in Early America

In this month’s episode, Ken Owen, Michael Hattem, Roy Rogers, and Liz Covart discuss popular protest in early America, including the moral economy of the colonial period, the Stamp Act riots and the development of protest during the imperial crisis, and Shays’ Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion in the early republic.


American popular protest has a long tradition going back into the colonial period and beyond. Colonists brought over traditions of popular protest from England that were transformed in the colonial period. During the imperial crisis, colonists protested in large numbers, whether through violent riots or more organized protest campaigns. After the war, this tradition continued with Shays’ Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion and was drawn on by the important social movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including abolitionism, women’s rights movements, and the African-American and gay civil rights movements.


  • What are the Anglo-American roots of popular protest?
  • What kinds of things did colonists protest in public?
  • How important were the popular protests in repealing the Stamp Act?
  • How did popular protest develop during the imperial crisis?
  • How did popular protest change after the Revolution?


Liz Covart is an independent historian and host of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast. She received her PhD from the University of California at Davis, where her dissertation focused on imperial and national identity in revolutionary Albany. Liz blogs at Uncommonplace Book and writes for a number of online history websites and publications. She also offers social media consulting services for writers.


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Pencak, William, Matthew Dennis, and Simon P. Newman, eds. Riot and Revelry in Early America. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002.

Richards, Leonard L. Shays’s Rebellion: The American Revolution’s Final Battle. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.

Slaughter, Thomas P. The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Smith, Barbara Clark. The Freedoms We Lost: Consent and Resistance in Revolutionary America. New York: New Press, 2010.

Thomspon, E. P. “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” Past & Present No. 50 (1971): 76-136

Young, Alfred F., Gary B. Nash, and Ray Raphael, eds. Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.

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