Ep. 18: The Coming of the American Revolution

Burning of the stamp actKen Owen, Michael Hattem, Roy Rogers, and Liz Covart discuss the coming of the Revolution, including both its long-term origins and short-term causes, and debate the importance of imperial identity, popular participation, ideas and ideology, and the character of the resistance movement.


What do we mean when we say the “coming of the Revolution?” What were the Revolution’s origins and its causes? How far back can we go in looking for the former and how close to 1776 can we go in looking for the latter? Historians have debated these questions since the war itself was still raging. At the heart of this debate is the question: How did the colonies get from 1763 to independence in 1776 in only thirteen years? That is to ask, how did the political break between the colonies and the mother country happen so quickly after almost two centuries of imperial ties. In the twentieth century, historians have offered interpretations about the causes of the Revolution that focus on ideas, economics, and politics. But, following a burst of work on the questions of the coming of the Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, subsequent generations of historians have largely abandoned the question, turning their attentions instead toward the consequences of the Revolution. With so much time gone by, however, perhaps it is time for historians to reconsider the questions of the origins and causes of the American Revolution once again.


  • What is the difference between the “origins” and “causes” of the Revolution?
  • What is the interrelationship between them?
  • How far back in time can we go when seeking the origins of the Revolution?
  • When did the Revolution begin?
  • What role did “imperial identity” play in the origins and causes of the Revolution?
  • How important was the role of political institutions in the causes of the Revolution?
  • Why did colonists believe they were entitled to autonomy within the British Empire?
  • When was independence actually possible?


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 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.


As always, you can subscribe to “The JuntoCast” in iTunes or via RSS. The JuntoCast is also available on Spreaker, and recent episodes are also available at SoundCloud and YouTube.


Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992.

Becker, Carl L. Eve of the Revolution: A Chronicle of the Breach with EnglandNew Haven: Yale University Press, 1918.

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Breen, T. H. American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People Before Independence. New York: Hill and Wang, 2010.

Breen, T. H. The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Butler, Jon. Becoming America: The Revolution Before 1776. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Carp, Benjamin L. Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Colbourn, Trevor. The Lamp of Experience: Whig History and the Intellectual Origins of the American Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965.

Egnal, Marc. A Mighty Empire: The Origins of the American Revolution. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989.

Hattem, Michael D. “Have Cultural Historians Lost the American Revolution?” The Junto: A Group Blog on Early American History (March 31, 2015).

———. “The Historiography of the American Revolution.” Journal of the American Revolution (August 27, 2013).

———. “The Return of the American Revolution.” The Junto: A Group Blog on Early American History (May 27, 2103).

Knollenberg, Bernhard. Growth of the American Revolution, 1766-1775. New York: The Free Press, 1975.

Morgan, Edmund S. “The American Revolution: Revisions in Need of Revising.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 14, no. 1 (1957): 3–15.

Nelson, Eric. “Patriot Royalism: The Stuart Monarchy in American Political Thought, 1769–75.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 68, no. 4 (2011): 533–572.

———. The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding.Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014.

Owen, Kenneth A. “National Identity and the American Revolution.” The Junto: A Group Blog on Early American History (December 27, 2012).

———. “No Politics, No Revolution.” The Junto: A Group Blog on Early American History (April 7, 2015).

———. “Was The American Revolution A Good Thing?” The Junto: A Group Blog on Early American History (September 4, 2013).

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Swingen, Abigail L. Competing Visions of Empire: Labor, Slavery, and the Origins of the British Atlantic Empire. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.


Coming of the American Revolution,” Massachusetts Historical Society. [NB: An interactive website with a highly curated collection of documents relating to each phase of the imperial crisis.]

The Stamp Act, 22 March 1765,” Avalon Project.

Boston Non-Importation Agreement, August 1, 1768,” Avalon Project.

Association of the Sons of Liberty in New York; December 15, 1773,” Avalon Project.

The Association of the Virginia Convention; August 1-6, 1774,” Avalon Project.

The Boston Port Act : March 31, 1774,” Avalon Project.

Charleston Non-Importation Agreement; July 22, 1769,” Avalon Project.

The Charlotte Town Resolves; May 31, 1775,” Avalon Project.

Circular Letter of the Boston Committee of Correspondence; May 13, 1774,” Avalon Project.

Circular Letter to the Governors in America; April 21, 1768,” Avalon Project.

Connecticut Resolutions on the Stamp Act: December 10, 1765,” Avalon Project.

The Currency Act; April 19, 1764,” Avalon Project.

Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms : July 6, 1775,” Avalon Project.

Declarations and Resolves of the First Continental Congress; October 14, 1774,” Avalon Project.

The Declaratory Act; March 18, 1766,” Avalon Project.

Letter from Lieutenant-Governor Colden to the Earl of Dartmouth; June 1, 1774,” Avalon Project.

Letter from the New York Committee of Fifty-One to the Boston Committee of Correspondence; May 23, 1774,” Avalon Project.

The Massachusetts Government Act; May 20, 1774,” Avalon Project.

The Mecklenburgh Resolutions : May 20, 1775,” Avalon Project.

Massachusetts Circular Letter to the Colonial Legislatures; February 11, 1768,” Avalon Project.

New York Merchants Non-importation Agreement; October 31, 1765,” Avalon Project.

Patrick Henry – Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death; March 23, 1775,” Avalon Project.

Petition from the Massachusetts House of Representatives to the House of Commons; November 3, 1764,” Avalon Project.

Petition of the Virginia House of Burgesses to the House of Commons: December 18, 1764,” Avalon Project.

The Philadelphia Resolutions; October 16, 1773,” Avalon Project.

Proceedings of Farmington, Connecticut, on the Boston Port Act; May 19, 1774,” Avalon Project.

Proceedings of the Inhabitants of Philadelphia; June 18, 1774,” Avalon Project.

The Quartering Act; May 15, 1765,” Avalon Project.

The Quartering Act; June 2, 1774,” Avalon Project.

The Quebec Act: October 7, 1774,” Avalon Project.

Resolutions of the Boston Town Meeting; September 13, 1768,” Avalon Project.

Resolutions of the Congress of October 19, 1765,” Avalon Project.

Resolutions of the Massachusetts House of Representatives Agreeing to the Virginia Proposal; May 28, 1773,” Avalon Project.

Resolutions of the Provincial Congress of Virginia; March 23, 1775,” Avalon Project.

Resolves of the Pennsylvania Assembly on the Stamp Act, September 21, 1765,” Avalon Project.

The Royal Proclamation – October 7, 1763,” Avalon Project.

The Sugar Act; September 29, 1764,” Avalon Project.

The Townshend Act, November 20, 1767,” Avalon Project.

Virginia Declaration of Rights; June 12, 1776,” Avalon Project.

Virginia Resolutions Establishing A Committee of Correspondence; March 12, 1773,” Avalon Project.

One comment on “Ep. 18: The Coming of the American Revolution

  1. If we’re talking the process of the Revolution, we could push it back to the Plymouth landings with the Mayflower Compact, where the signers of that compact declared that they had the power to regulate their own politics.

    What town or village in any other English territory had that power? That’s really when the long, slow process of revolution began, as New Englanders established their political institutions.

    If we’re talking the Revolution as “event”, I really have to argue that it happened from 1773 to 1775 (and I’ve felt this way for awhile now), with the escalation in resistance in New England in particular, but also in other key colonies such as South Carolina and Virginia. The resistance to British political rule was that of resistance *within* Empire, not resistance leading to rebellion. The Boston Tea Party was the catalyst. Even though many prominent Americans disagreed with the action, the reaction by Parliament was so overwhelming that it pushed American colonists over the edge from resistance to revolution.

    The war itself was just the point where the people said “Now we’re going to fight to separate ourselves from England”. It was the means by which revolution was finalized, not the revolution itself.

    I think Liz’s comment early in the episode actually ties in all the various strands together. The Revolution was about the colonists not having power and protection within the English state. They were treated as second class citizens in the economic front, on the cultural front. They felt they were treated as second class citizens on the religious front, and on the political front.

    They had that power within a burgeoning American state, and when that power was threatened, it exploded into violence and revolution.


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