Consumer Politics in the American Revolution

Tuesday, October 16, 2012
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm (EST) Enter Classroom Enter Forum


Timothy H. Breen
William Smith Mason Professor of American History
Northwestern University
National Humanities Center Fellow

About the Seminar

The men and women who made the American Revolution were united as consumers before they came together as rebels. Through the mid-1700s, as the wealth of the colonies increased, Americans from Portsmouth to Savannah bought the same imported goods. Their shared desire for and dependence upon British cloth, ceramics, tea, and other items created a common experience. When the colonists became convinced that they could preserve their liberties only by overthrowing British rule, they drew upon this experience to unite in a new form of political protest.

With non-importation pledges — we would call them boycotts — private decisions became public acts; consumer choices proclaimed political loyalties. Patriots could identify one another and, more important, learn to trust each other as they saw who was willing to sacrifice for the cause. How did the decision to wear homespun cotton instead of imported linen mobilize resistance to the Crown? How was the American Revolution a tempest about a teapot?

Online Evaluation

Online evaluation for seminar participants.