The Popular Politics of Loyalism During the American Revolution, 1774-1790

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A spokesman for the American Revolution, John Adams, famously claimed that a third of colonists supported independence, a third supported Britain, and a third remained neutral. Since then historians have struggled to understand the mixed loyalties of the Revolutionary generation. "The Popular Politics of Loyalism During the American Revolution, 1774-1790," seeks to explain the widespread appeal of Loyalism. Predictably, the first and loudest champions of the British Empire came from the ranks of crown officials. Harder to explain are the thousands of colonists who had no special ties to the British, but who still supported Britain. I argue that for most colonists Loyalism was not the legacy of the eighteenth-century British Empire, but a new politics created out of the Revolutionary moment. I capture the ongoing debate about Loyalism through micro-studies of four moments when colonists confronted their allegiances and supported Britain. The first two examine Loyalism during the war years (1774-1782) in Connecticut and New Jersey. The last two examine the Loyalism during the first years of peace (1782-1790) in Nova Scotia and Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. Chapter one focuses on Western Connecticut between 1774-1776 and the first Loyalists and Patriots appeared as colonists had to decide whether to support the initial call for independence or start a counter-revolution. Chapter two moves to the opening campaign of the War of Independence in New Jersey between 1776-1777 and demonstrates how the realties of warfare soon complicated earlier allegiances. Chapter three turns to Loyalism at the end of the Revolution and the thousands of Loyalists who fled the United States to the British colony of Nova Scotia. Chapter four examines the refugees in Nova Scotia who realized the ties to their old life remained stronger than their new ties to the British Empire and returned to the United States. Through these studies, I demonstrate the unpredictable course of popular politics can take in any revolution.

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  • 09/30/2019
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