American cultural and political evolution and the momentous events, 1750-1800, were driven by radical rather than conservative influences which altered the status of the common man while threatening the power and prestige of what Hamilton called 'the better sort.'

Evaluate this statement, propose a relevant thesis statement and support with outside information and the attached documents.



Gouverneur Morris Warns Against Democratic Revolution, 1774

In this letter to a friend, Morris - who would participate in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 - argues the position that the people are to be feared as a mindless mob that threatens the rule of better sorts of people.


...These sheep, simple as they are, cannot be gulled as heretofore. In short, there is no ruling them; and now, to leave the metaphor, the heads of the mobility [the mob] grow dangerous to the gentry, and how to keep them down is the question. While they correspond with the other colonies, call and dismiss popular assemblies, make resolves to bind the consciences of the rest of mankind, bully poor printers, and exert with full force all their other tribunitial powers, it is impossible to curb them....

I stood in the balcony, and on my right hand were ranged all the people of property, with some few poor dependents, and on the other all the tradesmen, etc., who thought it worth their while to leave daily labor for the good of the country. The spirit of the English constitution has yet a little influence left, and but a little. The remains of it, however, will give the wealthy people a superiority this time, but would they secure it they must banish all schoolmasters and confine all knowledge to themselves. This cannot be. The mob begin to think and to reason. Poor reptiles! it is with them a vernal morning; they are struggling to cast off their winter's slough, they bask in the sunshine, and ere noon they will bite, depend upon it.

The gentry begin to fear this. Their committee will be appointed; they will deceive the people and again forfeit a share of their confidence. And if these instances of what with one side is policy, with the other perfidy, shall continue to increase and become more frequent, farewell aristocracy. I see, and I see it with fear and trembling, that if the disputes with Great Britain continue, we shall be under the worst of all possible dominions; we shall be under the domination of a riotous mob....

SOURCE:   Gouverneur Morris to John Penn, May 20, 1774.



A New Jersey Artisan is Tarred and Feathered, 1775

Thomas Randolph had proven himself a Tory by statement and deeds and had drawn the attention of patriots who set up a makeshift court and ordered Randolph's public punishment.


New York, December 28, 1775

The 6th of December, at Quibbletown, Middlesex County, Piscataway Township, New-Jersey, Thomas Randolph, cooper, who had publickly proved himself an enemy to his country, by reviling and using his utmost endeavours to oppose the proceedings of the Continental and Provincial Conventions and Committees, in defense of their rights and liberties; and he, being judged a person of not consequence enough for a severer punishment, was ordered to be stripped naked, well coated with tar and feathers, and carried in a wagon pubickly round the town; which punishment was accordingly inflicted. And as he soon became duly sensible of his offense, for which he earnestly begged pardon, and promised to atone, as far as he was able, by a contrary behaviour for the future, he was released, and suffered to return to his house in less than half an hour. The whole was conducted with that regularity and decorum that ought to be observed in all publick punishments.

SOURCE:   Records of the Committee of Safety, New York, December 28, 1775.



The Burning of the Gaspee, June 1772

The Gaspee was attacked by Rhode Island colonists who supported smuggling in violation of the Navigation Acts.


Then in June 1772 came the Gaspee affair. Rhode Island, on of the two colonies whose charter did not require a governor appointed by the Crown (Connecticut was the other), had long been notorious for ignoring imperial trade laws. For years, Rhode Island’s many coves and inlets had sheltered smugglers who defied the customs authorities with impunity. To stop the traffic, the British authorities finally dispatched the ship Gaspee [royal revenue cutter] to Narragansett Bay. Tricky tides ran the ship onto a sandbar near Providence. That night a band of Rhode Island Sons of liberty boarded the stranded Gaspee, overwhelmed its captain and crew, and burned the vessel to the waterline.

SOURCE:   Firsthand America, A History of the United States, David Burner, 1996.



Why an Old Soldier Fought

Many years after the bloodshed at Lexington, Mellen Chamberlain, a prominent Massachusetts lawyer-politican-historian-librarian, published the following account of an interview with a veteran participant, Levi Preston. Why did Preston fight? What did his reasons have to do with traditional historical accounts?


When I was about twenty-one and Captain Preston about ninety-one, I interviewed him as to what he did and thought sixty-seven years before, on April 19, 1775. And now, fifty-two years later, I make my report--a little belated perhaps, but not too late, I trust, for the morning papers!

With an assurance passing even that of the modern interviewer--if that were possible--I began: Captain Preston, why did you go to the Concord fight, the 19th of April, 1775?

The old man, bowed beneath the weight of years, raised himself upright, and turning to me said: Why did I go?

Yes, I replied; my histories tell me that you men of the Revolution took up arms against intolerable oppressions. What were they?

Oppressions? I didn't feel them.

What, were you not oppressed by the Stamp Act?

I never saw one of those stamps... and I am certain I never paid a penny for one of them.

Well, what then about the tea-tax?

Tea-tax! I never drank a drop of the stuff; the boys threw it all overboard.

Then I suppose you had been reading Harrington or Sidney and Locke about the eternal principles of liberty.

Never heard of 'em. We read only the Bible, the Catechism, Watts' Psalms and Hymns, and the Almanack.

Well, then, what was the matter? and what did you mean in going to the fight?

Young man, what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn't mean we should.



Story of the Boston Tea Party, December 16, 1773

This modern account of the Boston Tea Party and an original document of the remembrances of a participant in that event appears in one of the standard college textbooks used today in many colleges and universities.


One the evening of December 16, 1773, a gathering of perhaps 8,000 men, much of the town’s contingent of able-bodies males, assembled at the Old South Church. They were there to hold a town meeting, to ask that the hated tea not be landed. Their request was not granted, and at the end of the meeting Sam Adams rose from his seat and said "This meeting can do nothing to save the country." As if by prearranged signal, as soon as the meeting adjourned, a band of men disguised as Mohawk Indians rushed down Milk Street to Griffin’s Wharf. Three companies of these instant Indians rowed out to the anchored tea ships, boarded them, split open the tea chests, and dumped their massive contents into the waters of the harbor. Their mission accomplished, the men quickly and quietly dispersed....
                                                 Firsthand America, A History of the United States,
David Burner, 1996.


George Hewes, One of the Indians participating in the Boston Tea Party, December 16, 1773 had this first hand report of the Tea Party:

[I brought}... a small hatchet, which I and my associates demoninated "the tomahawk," with which, and a club, after having painted my face and hands with coal dust in the shop of a blacksmith, I repaired to Griffin’s wharf, where the three ships lay that contained the tea.... [T]here appeared to be an understanding that each individual should volunteer his services, keep his own secret, and risk the consequences for himself. No disorder took place during that transaction, and it was observed at the time that the stillest night ensued that Boston had enjoyed for many months.

                     George Hewes, 1773 - Firsthand America, A History of the United States, David Burner, 1996.



This is an account of Boston’s reaction to the Stamp Act by Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson, himself a victim of mob anger over the Stamp Act. Hutchinson speaks in the third person.

The distributor of stamps for the colony of Connecticut arrived in Boston from London.... When he set out for Connecticut, Mr. Oliver, the distributor for Massachusetts Bay, accompanied him.... This occasioned murmuring among the people, and an inflammatory piece in the next Boston Gazette. A few days after... a stuffed image was hung upon a tree.... Labels affixed denoted it to be designed for the distributor of stamps [Mr. Oliver]....

Before night, the image was taken down, and carried to the townhall, in the chamber whereof the governor and council were sitting. Forty or fifty tradesmen, decently dressed, preceded; and some thousands of the mob followed down King street to Oliver's dock, near which Mr. Oliver had lately erected a building, which, it was conjectured, he designed for a stamp office. This was laid flat to the ground in a few minutes. From thence the mob proceeded for Fort Hill, but Mr. Oliver's house being in the way, they endeavoured to force themselves into it, and being opposed, broke the windows, beat down the doors, entered, and destroyed part of his furniture, and continued in riot until midnight, before they separated....

Despairing of protection, and finding his family in terror and great distress, Mr. Oliver came to a sudden resolution to resign his office before another night....

The next evening, the mob surrounded the house of the lieutenant-governor and chief justice [Hutchinson]. [The mob had been told] that he was a favourer of the stamp act, and had encouraged it by letters to the ministry. Upon notice of the approach of the people, he caused the doors and windows to be barred; and remained in the house....

[On] the evening of the 26th of August a mob was collected in King street, drawn there by a bonfire, and well supplied with strong drink. [T]hey came, with intoxicated rage, upon the house of the lieutenant-governor. The doors were immediately split to pieces with broad axes, and a way made there, and at the windows, for the entry of the mob; which poured in, and filled, in an instant, every room in the house.... They continued their possession until day-light; destroyed, carried away, or cast into the street, every thing that was in the house; demolished every part of it, except the walls, as far as lay in their power; and had begun to break away the brickwork.

The damage was estimated at about twenty-five hundred pounds sterling, without any regard to a great collection of publick as well as private papers, in the possession and custody of the lieutenant-governor.

SOURCE:   Thomas Hutchinson Recounts the Mob Reaction to the Stamp Act in Boston, 1765.



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SOURCE:  Broadside issued on November 27, 1773 at Philadelphia



This is a contemporary account of the Boston Massacre by a citizen of the town.


On Monday Evening the 5th current, a few Minutes after 9 O’Clock a most horrid murder was committed in King Street before the Customhouse Door by 8 or 9 Soldiers under the Command of Capt Thos Preston drawn of from the Main Guard on the South side of the Townhouse.

This unhappy affair began by Some Boys & young fellows throwing Snow Balls at the sentry placed at the Customhouse Door. On which 8 or 9 Soldiers Came to his assistance. Soon after a Number of people collected, when the Capt commanded the Soldiers to fire, which they did and 3 men were Kil’d on the Spot & several Mortaly Wounded, one of which died next morning. The Capt soon drew off his Soldiers up to the Main Guard, or the Consequences mite have been terable, for on the Guns fiering the people were alarm’d & set the Bells a Ringing as if for Fire, which drew Multitudes to the place of action. Leut. Governor Hutchinson, who was a commander in Chefe, was sent for & Came to the Council Chamber, where som of the Magistrates attended. The Governor desired the Multitude about 10 O’Clock to sepperat & go home peaceable & he would do all in his power that Justice shold be done &c. The 29 Rigiment being then under Arms on the south side of the Townhouse, but the people insisted that the Soldiers should be ordered to their Barracks 1st before they would sepperat Which being don the people sepperated about 1 O’Clock. - Capt. Preston was taken up by warrent given to the high Sherif by Justice Dania and Tudor and came under Examination about 2 O’Clock & we sent him to Goal [jail] soon after 3, having Evidence sufficient to committ him, on his order the soldiers to fir; So about 4 O’Clock the Town became quiet. The next forenoon the 8 Soldiers that fired on the inhabitants was allso sent to Goal [jail]. Tuesday A.M. the inhabitants mett at Faneuil Hall & afterr some pertinant speches, chose a Committee of 15 Gentlemn to waite on the Leut Governor in Council to request the immediate removeal of the Troops....

(Thursday) Agreeable to a general request of the Inhabitants, were follow’d to the Grave (for the were all Buried in one) in succession the Bodies of Messs Saml Gray Saml Maverick James Caldwell & Crispus Attucks, the unhappy Victims who fell in the Bloody Massacre. On this sorrowfull Occasion most of the shops & stores in Town were shut, all the Bells were order’d to toll a solom peal in Boston, Charleston, Cambridge & Roxbery. The several Hearses forming a junction in King Street, the Theatre of that inhuman Tradgedy, proceeded from thence thro’ the main street, lengthened by an immence Concourse of people, So numerous as to be obliged to follow in Ranks of 4 & 6 abrest and brought up by a long Train of Carriages. The sorrow Visible in the Countenances, together with the peculiar solemnity, Surpass description, it was supposd that the Spectators & those that follo’d the corps amounted to 15,000, some supposed 20,000. Note Capt Preston was tried for his Life on the affare of the above Octobr 24 1770. The Trial lasted 5 Days, but the Jury brought hin in not Guilty.

SOURCE:  John Tudor, Boston Merchant, Describes the Boston Massacre in His Diary, 1770.



Charleston, South Carolina, Sons of Liberty, 1766

This membership list of the Charleston, South Carolina Sons of Liberty can be quite revealing as to the social and economic background of the people who opposed the King and later supported revolution against his authority.


1. Christopher Gadsden, merchant.
2. William Johnson, blacksmith.
3. Joseph Veree, carpenter.
4. John Fullerton, carpenter.
5. James Brown, carpenter.
6. Nath[anie]l Libby, ship carpenter.
7. George Flagg, painter and glazier.
8. Tho[ma]s Coleman, upholsterer.
9. John Hall, coachmaker.
10. W[illia]m Field, carver.
11. Robert Jones, sadler.
12. John Loughton, coachmaker.
13. "W." Rogers, wheelwright.
14. John Calvert, "Clerk in some office."
15. H[enry] Y. Bookless, wheelwright.
16. J. Barlow, sadler.
17. Tunis Teabout, blacksmith.
18. Peter Munclean, clerk.
19. W[illia]m Trusler, butcher.
20. Robert Howard, carpenter.
21. Alexander Alexander, schoolmaster.
22. Ed[ward] Weyman, clerk of St. Philip's Church, and glass grinder.
23. Tho[ma]s Swarle, painter.
24. W[illia]m Laughton, tailor.
25. Daniel Cannon, carpenter.
26. Benjamin Hawes, painter.

SOURCE: C harleston, S.C., Sons of Liberty, Membership List, 1766, Robert W. Gibbes, ed., Documentary History of the American Revolution, South Carolina, 1764-1776 (New York, 1855), pp. 10-11.



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DBQ Question created by
Mr. Gordon Price Utz, Jr.
Stratford Senior High School
Houston, TX