The Will of the People: The Revolutionary Birth of America (Paperback)
  • The Will of the People: The Revolutionary Birth of America (Paperback)

The Will of the People: The Revolutionary Birth of America (Paperback)

Paperback 272 Pages
Published: 06/04/2021
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“Important and lucidly written…The American Revolution involved not simply the wisdom of a few great men but the passions, fears, and religiosity of ordinary people.”
—Gordon S. Wood

In this boldly innovative work, T. H. Breen spotlights a crucial missing piece in the stories we tell about the American Revolution. From New Hampshire to Georgia, it was ordinary people who became the face of resistance. Without them the Revolution would have failed. They sustained the commitment to independence when victory seemed in doubt and chose law over vengeance when their communities teetered on the brink of anarchy.

The Will of the People offers a vivid account of how, across the thirteen colonies, men and women negotiated the revolutionary experience, accepting huge personal sacrifice, setting up daring experiments in self-government, and going to extraordinary lengths to preserve the rule of law. After the war they avoided the violence and extremism that have compromised so many other revolutions since. A masterful storyteller, Breen recovers the forgotten history of our nation’s true founders.

“The American Revolution was made not just on the battlefields or in the minds of intellectuals, Breen argues in this elegant and persuasive work. Communities of ordinary men and women—farmers, workers, and artisans who kept the revolutionary faith until victory was achieved—were essential to the effort.”
—Annette Gordon-Reed

“Breen traces the many ways in which exercising authority made local committees pragmatic…acting as a brake on the kind of violent excess into which revolutions so easily devolve.”
Wall Street Journal

Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674251397
Number of pages: 272
Dimensions: 235 x 156 mm


The American Revolution involved not simply the wisdom of a few great men but, more important, the passions, fears, and religiosity of ordinary people. This is the sensible point of this important and lucidly written book. - Gordon S. Wood, author of Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson

Is it possible to have popular government without popular excess? In asking that very timely question, Breen ingeniously demonstrates what the un-excessive American Revolution was able to accomplish—and what it was unable to complete. Revolutions continue today; today’s revolutionaries would learn a great deal from this masterful study. - Joyce E. Chaplin, Harvard University

A provocative and timely contribution to our understanding of the American Revolution. Breen shows us a nation-making war that channeled political passions in surprisingly constructive, stabilizing ways. The Will of the People deserves the widest possible audience. - Peter S. Onuf, University of Virginia

The American Revolution was made not just on the battlefields, in the halls of power, or in the minds of intellectuals, T. H. Breen argues in this elegant and persuasive work. Communities of ordinary men and women—farmers, workers, and artisans who kept the revolutionary faith until victory over the British forces was achieved—were essential to the effort. The Will of the People deftly brings their perspectives and contributions into full view. - Annette Gordon-Reed, Harvard University

Ordinary people, Breen reminds us, were the Revolution’s true heroes. These men and women made America’s birth possible, and this marvelous book reminds us that it is their example that keeps the Revolution alive today. - Eliga Gould, author of Among the Powers of the Earth: The American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire

Breen has written a study of the American Revolution unlike any other. He recovers the lost world of revolutionaries, allowing readers to witness one of history’s most momentous events, ordinary Americans, animated by hope and fear, founding a nation. This is a book crafted by a master historian writing at the top of his game. - Patrick Griffin, University of Notre Dame

There is no single story of the American Revolution, Breen argues crisply and persuasively. While not dismissing the essential contributions of the Founders, he insists we cannot fully understand how the revolution succeeded until we are also attentive to the emotional discourse of ordinary people from small communities and port towns from which a lasting political culture took shape. - Barbara Oberg, Editor Emeritus, Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Princeton University

The ‘revolution’ that concerns T. H. Breen…was not led by John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Rather, Breen argues convincingly, it was conducted by thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of ordinary (future) Americans in towns and villages often far from the fighting…[An] elegantly written book. - Times Literary Supplement

Looks closely at the struggle for American independence and asks what made the American revolutionary experience so different. - William Anthony Hay, Wall Street Journal

Powerful and important…Breen shows that the revolution offered opportunities for self-government and popular decision making that led to a dramatic change in political consciousness…Political passions and the experience of ‘ordinary people’ help explain why America’s revolution ended differently—and more successfully—than other modern revolutions. - Justin du Rivage, New Rambler

An examination of the effects of the American Revolution on ordinary people, with some anxious glances at our political divisions today…Breen wonders if, in our current era, we will be able to employ the essential lessons about unity that he has extracted from the past…Enlightening, revolutionary thinking. - Kirkus Reviews

Tells a new story about the American Revolution, one mostly left in the deep shade of the Founding Fathers’ towering shadows. Eschewing the standard histories of the Revolution that place primary importance upon its political theories and legal reasoning, Breen revises this overdone focus to highlight the ‘true sites of resistance’—the small communities across the fledgling nation who daily sustained the fight for independence…Extremely well-paced and engaging. - Peggy Kurkowski, Open Letters Review

Breen has done an outstanding job of closing the loop on telling the untapped history of the average American’s role in deciding to throw off British rule and establish a new country. - Jerry D. Lenaburg, New York Journal of Books

Brings to the forefront the memories of those underappreciated Americans who made difficult decisions, crafted plans, and committed to sacrifices for the common good during the Revolutionary era…Original and enlightening. - Megan King, Journal of the American Revolution

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