Pampleteering During the American Revolution

Interested in the Revolution? Learn more about its origins with Bernard Bailyn's "The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution".

Today we take freedom of speech for granted, but during the years leading up to the Revolutionary War the colonists began to feel as though it one was of the few freedoms that they had remaining. “Not only did individuals and groups in towns remark concerning the importance of being able to publish one’s ideas, but also the colonial governments took steps to insure people this privilege.”[1] Paine lived in a time when words meant everything, a time when a man’s signature on a document signified his honor as a gentleman. Today we sign our name here, there and everywhere, and usually with not even reading the entirety of what we are agreeing to with our signature. Yet Thomas Paine was one of many who essentially committed treason so as to let their convictions be known and to encourage as many as possible to follow suit. There are a great number of pamphleteers who wrote steadily in the years before and during the War for Independence, some very well known and some forgotten by time. This paper will take a look at some works from the Revolutionary Pamphleteers, the works of those who have commented on them in more recent time, and will examine the question of why these writers were so important to the cause of the Revolutionary War and still important for those who study the Revolutionary War.

In 1965 Bernard Bailyn compiled a collection of pamphlets of the American Revolution, in the first chapter of this work Bailyn tells the reader, “It was in this form – as pamphlets – that much of the most important and characteristic writing of the American Revolution appeared…Then as now, it was seen that the pamphlet allowed one to do things that were not possible in any other form.”[2] Essentially pamphlets allowed the author to write as little or as much as he wanted, they could hold on the average between 5,000-25,000 words and the paper could be folded into fourths or eighths which allowed for a small cost or printing.[3] With a smaller cost to print, pamphlets opened up the literary world to a whole new strata of society. Pamphlets also reached a greater number of people compared to if someone were to give a speech. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “The ancient Roman and Greek Orators could only speak to the number of citizens capable of being assembled within the reach of their voice. Their writings had little effect because the bulk of the people could not read. Now by the press we can speak to nations; and good books & well written pamphlets have great and considerable influence.”[4] Men with something to say no longer needed to be Harvard educated or wealthy to have their views published and read, they merely had to have the cost to print and a conviction to share.

In regards to the idealness of pamphlets for the Revolutionary writers Bailyn writes:

“The pamphlet of this middle-length was perfectly suited to the needs of the Revolutionary writers. It was spacious enough to allow for the full development of an argument – to investigate premises, explore logic, and consider conclusions; it could accommodate the elaborate involutions of eighteenth-century literary forms; it gave range for the publication of fully wrought, leisurely-paced sermons; it could conveniently carry state papers, collections of pseudonymous newspaper columns, and strings of damaging or exonerating personal correspondence…And yet pamphlets of this length were seldom ponderous; whatever the gravity of their themes or the spaciousness of their contents, they were always polemical, always essentially intimate, and aimed at immediate and rapidly shifting targets: at suddenly developing problems, unanticipated arguments, and swiftly rising, controversial figures. The best of the writing that appeared in this form, consequently, had a rare combination of spontaneity and solidity, of dash and detail, of casualness and care.”[5]

Pamphlets allowed for writers to address current affairs quickly and effectively as opposed to waiting for the drawn out process of a book to be published. With the size and simplicity of the pamphlet’s construction, once written, they could be printed at the author’s expense and distributed to the public quite fast. “Highly flexible, easy to manufacture, and cheap, pamphlets were printed in the American colonies wherever there were printing presses, intellectual ambitions, and political concerns.”[6] These simple sheets of paper opened up the world of politics and debate to the everyday American; men who were perhaps not formally educated, but self-taught with something to say in regards to how their country should be run. After all these men were British citizens and they expected to be treated with all the respect and liberties that came with being such.

Although the greatest numbers of pamphlets were written following a great event, the Revolutionary writers did not only respond to huge events such as the Stamp Act or the Boston Tea Party, they also would have series of arguments and counter-arguments through pamphlets in lieu of a public debate. In fact, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was answered by two refutations by Tories in addition to four pamphlets written by patriots who shared beliefs and longing for independence but they did not share in his constitutional and religious views or his assumptions about human nature.[7] Thomas Paine went on to be the only Revolutionary writer who was rewarded by the government for his work. The Pennsylvania Assembly awarded him £ 500 in cash, and New York bestowed upon him the confiscated property of a loyalist in New Rochelle.[8] In addition to these two types of pamphlets was a third type which published orations that marked anniversaries such as the Boston Massacre, the Pilgrims’ landing, and other political events.[9]

The key to a successful and effective pamphlet was all in the timing; it could not be printed too soon or too late. “The people must be to the point where they are ready for some one to take the lead in expressing agreement or opposition to these questions.”[10] The more public opposition there was in regards to an event such as the Stamp Act or Sugar Act, the more effective a pamphlet would be that was directed at the event in question. One could also tell how effective and successful a pamphlet was by seeing how many pamphlets were published in response to the original argument. During the years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence there were quite a lot of unpopular acts passed by Parliament which led to an abundance of pamphlets which circulated through the colonies and England.[11] The number of pamphlets printed could easily be mistaken to be the sole measure of its effectiveness, but more often than not these pamphlets were not being read solely by the purchaser. Pamphlets often travelled from hand to hand, being lent out or borrowed between friends, family members, neighbors, colleagues, etc.[12] In addition to this network of sharing, not all colonists read these works just to themselves. “Stephen Hopkins’ The Grievances of the American Colonies was read before the Assembly of Rhode Island before it was ever published.”[13] Pamphlets were often read out loud in public places which allowed the message to be delivered to anyone who may not have been able to buy or borrow one, or even if someone was unable to read in the first place, they were still able to be influenced by the words of the Revolutionary writers. Regardless of where these pamphlets were written, in order to make them accessible throughout the colonies most of the pamphlets that were deemed important were printed in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia with an extra supply being printed in Williamsburg, Salem, Norwich, Lancaster, and Charlestown.[14] By the time the revolutionary frame of mind had taken off there was an abundance of pamphlets flooding the colonies; with some being as long as 100 pages. Though shorter is not always better, if the writer could make his argument as succinct as possible the chances of it being more widely read were greater since people were most likely to read a work which they could get through in an hour or two.[15]

While the residents of the thirteen American colonies were the primary audience for the American pamphleteers, “…the arguments propounded by colonial authors were also directed, whether overtly or implicitly, to an English readership.”[16] A large number of American pamphlets made their way over to Britain where they were reprinted for the citizens of England where “…they circulated among the radicals who proved themselves to be the patriots’ best English friends during the difficult years of the revolution.”[17] In total about 75 pamphlets by American revolutionaries were reprinted in England between 1763 and 1783, the most of which were printed between 1763-66 and 1774-76.[18] These presentations of the patriot cause were strengthened when American records such as the proceedings of the Stamp Act, the Continental Congresses the Declaration Setting Forth the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms, and the early state constitutions were reprinted in England.

“Colonial pamphlets generally appeared through one of two channels. Some were reprinted by American publicists in London; many were reprinted through the intercession of radicals themselves, thus providing an explicit demonstration of the importance they attached to them.”[19] The evidence as to how many pamphlets were printed is sparse but it looks as though the average print-run for one pamphlet was either 500 or 1,000 copies since these jobs were done in multiples of 250. If a pamphlet had really taken off it could have been copied up to 3,000 times.[20] This is supported by the amount of copies made of English writers’ pamphlets on the same topics. Another indicator that American pamphlets were being read in England was that English pamphleteers were citing them in their own works. Of course sometimes this was not always a positive thing, often the English writers would be using the Americans’ works against them, but still the American works were clearly being circulated.[21] British pamphleteers during the American Revolution have not received the same attention as American pamphleteers. “Those published in Great Britain concerning the relationship between the mother country and her colonies differ in two important respects from those published in America: they were addressed to an English rather than an American audience, and they appeared over a longer period. Writing on the subject continued in Great Britain until the formal acceptance of the independence of the United States in 1783; American writers on the other hand, regarded the issue as settled by 1776.”[22]

Oddly enough one of the most recognized Revolutionary Pamphlets, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, seemed to stir no reaction at all in England. John Dickinson, however, with his subtle approach and matter-of-fact style was recognized in England as the true “advocate of the American cause.”[23] “Although it is impossible to ascribe precise figures to the distribution of American pamphlets, it is clear that their circulation, especially among those who were radically minded, was extensive. Their publication and circulation reinforce the view that even in the eighteenth century the political nation extended beyond the ranks of the executive, parliament, and the highest reaches of society.”[24]

Richard Champion was a great friend to the patriot cause; while living in Bristol he arranged to have Congress’ address To the Inhabitants of Great Britain and The Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms reprinted for an English audience. Another friend of the Revolutionary writers, Thomas Hollis, was incredibly active in reprinting American pamphlets. Although he did not particularly care for politics, he believed that every citizen had the duty to do what they could to further the patriot cause which he saw the as the cause for liberty.[25]Hollis would publish pamphlets only if he felt the timing was right. For instance, “…Thomas Hollis rejected advice that Mayhew’s…Observations on the Charter and Conduct of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, should be published in London in the summer of 1763.”[26] His reasoning was that no one of consequence would be in London during the summer months. Ultimately Hollis held on to the work and published it when Parliament was once again in session when it would have its greatest impact. This was a pattern that often occurred when it came to printing American pamphlets, especially those which targeted government policies.[27]

The circulation of pamphlets in England was similar to that of the circulation in the colonies. It is reasonable to assume that many were purchased in book or pamphlet shops, especially for those living in London; but many changed hands many times as they were passed on to family, friends, and neighbors. The goal of these authors was not profit, “Their prime purpose was to communicate ideas, advance arguments and above all to influence and persuade; for them the content of their pamphlets was far more important than profitability, and private distribution was frequently a convenient and effective means of achieving their objective.”[28] Their purpose was to inform and inspire not to line their pockets, although some proved to be quite successful the Revolutionary writers measured their success by the number of people they enlightened. The fact that these writings reached England is an amazing testimony to theses writers’ ability to explain their cause to the people of Britain despite there being an ocean between them. By having their works run-off in London and other English cities, the citizens living in England were allowed a first-hand account of the opposition’s view. Whether or not they sympathized with the colonists’ views they could not say they were not getting the news straight from the source.

The question remains, who were these men who felt the need to write and publish their opinions; why were they important at the time and why are they still relevant in how we look at the Revolutionary War today?

John Dickinson was a key leader in the Revolutionary movement from its beginning. In 1765 he published The Late Regulations which bases his argument with Britain on an economic level. Dickinson does not get too philosophical in his work, just factual.

“…under all these restraints and some others that have been imposed on us, we have not till lately been unhappy. Our spirits were not depressed. We apprehended no design formed against our liberty. We for a long time enjoyed peace, and were quite free from any heavy debt, either internal or external. We had a paper currency which served as a medium of domestic commerce and permitted us to employ all the gold and silver we could acquire in trade abroad. We had a multitude of markets for our provisions, lumber, and iron. These allowed liberties, with some others we assumed, enabled us to collect considerable sums of money for the joint benefit of ourselves and our mother country.

But the modern regulations are in every circumstance afflicting. The remittances we have been able to make to Great Britain, with all the license hitherto granted or taken and all the money brought among us in the course of the late war, have not been sufficient to pay her what we owe; but there still remains due, according to a late calculation made by the English merchants, the sum of four millions sterling. Besides this we are and have been for many years heavily taxed for the payment of the debts contracted by our efforts against the common enemy. These seem to be difficulties severe enough for young colonies to contend with. The last sinks our paper currency very fast. The former sweeps off our silver and gold in a torrent to Great Britain and leaves us continually toiling to supply from a number of distant springs the continually wasting stream.

Thus drained, we are prohibited by new and stricter restraints being laid on our trade from procuring these coins as we used to do and from instituting among ourselves bills of credit in the place of such portions of them as are required in our internal traffic; and in this exhausted condition, our languishing country is to strive to take up and to totter under the additional burden of the Stamp Act.”[29]

Now John Dickinson is not really pulling out all of the stops by quoting Locke or Homer but he is reaching both his audience and target on the most basic of levels: common sense. He is making it very clear that the colonists were quite content being British citizens and they enjoyed the rights and liberties that came with being subjects of the crown; but when that same crown and government which is supposed to serve as their protector turns into their punisher something is wrong and must be corrected. The colonists had already been drained of their time, money, and resources; and then with the imposition of the Stamp Act it is just not feasible that they can continue on under such oppression from their own government. The current situation was no longer working and Dickinson is clearly saying that either the government or the people must do something to change it. Imagine reading this work as a life-long British citizen, loyal only to God and the King; maybe it would not have you up in arms, but it would certainly begin to spark the thought in your mind that maybe the government is no longer working for the greater good of the people. This is what Dickinson’s purpose was with his writing, not to incite violence or spark a war, but to encourage the common every day citizen to reassess what they see going on around them and to simply call into question whether it is acceptable or not. In fact Dickinson was heavily influenced by the Quaker way of life, and though not a formal Quaker himself he was a defender of peace and stuck to his convictions despite public opinion.[30]

James Otis was a Harvard graduate class of 1743 and went on to have his own law practice in Boston. He published his first work in 1760 on Latin prosody, and was met with high regard on both sides of the ocean.[31] Soon his writings turned to politics and in 1764 he published one of his best known works. Between 1764 and 1765 there was no more widely known pamphlet than James Otis’ The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved. In it Otis states, “The end of government being the good of mankind points out its great duties: it is above all things to provide for the security, the quiet, and happy enjoyment of life, liberty, and property. There is no one act which a government can have a right to make that does not tend to the advancement of the security, tranquility, and prosperity of the people. If life, liberty, and property could be enjoyed in as great perfection in solitude as in society there would be no need of government.”[32] Otis is saying to his readers that of course if Man could live on his own, apart from anyone else of course there would be no need for a formal government; but since that will never be the case the government needs to exist, but it should only exist for the purpose of protecting its peoples’ right to life, liberty, and property. He goes on to say, “But the experience of ages has proved that such is the nature of man, a weak, imperfect being, that the valuable ends of life cannot be obtained without the union and assistance of many. Hence ‘tis clear that men cannot live apart or independent of each other. In solitude men would perish, and yet they cannot live together without contests. These contests require some arbitrator to determine them. The necessity of a common, indifferent, and impartial judge makes all men seek one, though few find him in the sovereign power of their respective states or anywhere else in subordination to it.”[33]

James Otis is not an anarchist by any stretch of the imagination. He is fully admitting that government is necessary in the world to determine the structure of civilization. For Otis every man has the right to life, liberty, and property and it is the role of the government to not only serve as protector to these basic rights but he also sees the government as the arbitrator of everyday life between neighbors. He goes on to say that all men seek to find a man such as this to lead them, but very few find this person to be the person who leads them currently; a direct blow to King George III and his parliament.

Otis’ aim is to draw attention to the fact that the British colonists should be receiving the same treatment as if they were living in Great Britain themselves. Here he gives his definition of a colonist:

“If I were to define the modern colonists, I should say they are the noble discoverers and settlers of the new world, from whence as from an endless source, wealth and plenty, the means of power, grandeur, and glory, in a degree unknown to the hungry chiefs of former ages, have been pouring into Europe for 300 years past: in return for which those colonists have received from the several states of Europe, except from Great Britain only since the Revolution, nothing but ill-usage, slavery, and chains, as fast as the riches of their own earning could furnish the means of forging them.

A plantation or colony is a settlement of subjects in a territory disjoined or remote from the mother country, and may be made private adventurers or the public; but in both cases the colonists are entitled to as ample rights, liberties, and privileges as the subjects of the mother country are, and in some respects to more.[34]

Essentially Otis has laid the basis for his argument that it does not matter where a British citizen resides, as long as they are subjects of the British crown they should be entitled to all the rights and liberties of any British citizen who happens to reside in London. Bernard Bailyn deems Otis’ work as “The bold and original if somewhat slap-dash effort of a provincial American to define the limitations of Parliament’s power over the colonies in terms of a comprehensive theory of the British constitution, it moved into new regions of thought, and marks an important stage in the growth of a revolutionary frame of mind and in the history of American constitutionalism.”[35] Alex Tuckness comments that Otis’ “…muted radicalism is also an example of why writers who did not actually call for resistance are of crucial importance to the present study.”[36] Another point Tuckness makes is how very much Otis references and quotes Locke, in fact he opens his piece on Otis with “The Rights of the British Colonies by James Otis is an important example of Lockean justification for resistance.”[37] This is a trend that is very common in the works of the Revolutionary writers quite often they reference or quote the works of the Enlightenment thinkers.

“In pamphlet after pamphlet the American writers cited Locke on natural rights and on the social and government contract, Montesquieu and later Delolme on the character of British liberty and on the institutional requirements for its attainment, Voltaire on the evils of clerical oppression, Beccaria on the reform of criminal law, Grotius, Pufendorf, Burlamaqui, and Vattel on the laws of nature and of notions, and on the principles of civil government…In his two most prominent pamphlets James Otis cited as authorities, and quoted at length, Locker, Rousseau, Grotius, and Pufendorf, and denounced spokesmen, such as Filmer, for more traditional ideas of political authority.”[38]

In 1765 Daniel Dulany published Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes in the British Colonies. In regards to Dulany’s work Bailyn writes, “It has none of the rhetorical brilliance of Dickinson’s writing, none of the wild power of Otis’, none of the elegance of Jefferson’s or the vividness of John Adams’. It is, in fact, for all its fame and for all the praise that has been heaped on it, a poorly written piece…Yet the pamphlet went through five editions in the colonies within three months of its initial appearance, and it was reprinted in London twice within a year as a separate pamphlet and three times in collections of writings on American affairs.”[39] Essentially Dulany’s work was published at just the right time so that it was swept up in the debate on constitutional principles that came about after American writings had begun to be printed in Great Britain.[40] Bailyn is right when he says that Dulany’s work is not engrossing like so many other pamphleteers, but it struck the right chord at the right time.

Dulany attacks the subject of the colonies not having a representative in Parliament, and that being the case should not be on the receiving end of constantly raised taxes or new tax laws. Dulany writes, “The colonies are dependent upon Great Britain, and the supreme authority vested in the King, Lords, and Commons may justly be exercised to secure or preserve their dependence whenever necessary for that purpose. This authority results from and is implied in the idea of the relation subsisting between England and her colonies; for considering the nature of human affections, the inferior is not to be trusted with providing regulations to prevent his rising to an equality with his superior.”[41] Here Dulany is using the familiar comparison that England is the parent and the colonies are the children, and the children are not supposed to challenge the parents; and certainly they should not be trying to place themselves in a position where they would attempt to become the parent’s equal. Dulany goes on, “But though the right of the superior to use the proper means for preserving the subordination of his inferior is admitted, yet it does not necessarily follow that he has a right to seize the property of his inferior when he pleases or to command him in everything since, in the degrees of it, there may very well exist a dependence and inferiority without absolute vassalage and slavery.[42] This is not the first time in Revolutionary writing that we see charges of slavery brought against Great Britain and it certainly is not the last. Dulany is arguing that yes while it may be acceptable that England treats the colonies as inferiors, it does not have the right to treat them as slaves.

Dulany believes that the reason Britain is constantly taxing the colonies is to bail itself out of debt. “The national debt is heavy, and it is a popular scheme to draw from the colonies a contribution towards the relief of the mother country.”[43] It was obvious to most people at this point in time that Britain had begun to run dangerously low on natural resources and needed to turn to the American colonies to obtain the materials it needed to continue on the path it was accustomed to. “The colonies for a long course of time have largely contributed to the public revenue, and put Great Britain to little or no expense for their protection. If it were equitable to draw from them a further contribution, it does not therefore follow that it is proper to force it from them by the harsh and rigorous methods established by the Stamp Act, an act unequal and disproportioned to their circumstances whom it affects, exempting opulence, crushing indigence, and tearing from a numerous, loyal, and useful people the privileges they had, in their opinion, earned and merited, and justly held most dear.”[44] The British colonists in America felt as though they had been betrayed by their government, but this betrayal ran much deeper. This was as though a parent had turned on their own child. If the British government had needed more money, there were other methods it could have gone about to obtain it, but when it decided to come down on the American colonies like a ton of bricks it essentially cut the tie that bound them together. Up until this point in time the colonies had paid their dues to Britain without issue; they loved falling under the greatest government that the world had known. Yet now they were on the receiving end of its wrath, and it was no longer the fair just government that they had once known. Dulany may not have written an article that has the reader ready to jump out of their seat, but he wrote an article that speaks to the heart of every man. Maybe there is no flair or style, but sometimes you do not want gourmet cuisine, you just want plain home cooking; and that is what Dulany supplies to the people of the colonies. His fresh simple viewpoint speaks to the everyday man who maybe does not have the time to get swept away in clever language and spend hours reading a political discourse, but simply wants to sit down and know where he [Dulany] stands on the issue at hand.

The three men discussed above and the many others that are in their company were by no means professionals; “First and foremost, the American pamphleteers, though participants in a great tradition, were amateurs next to such polemicists as Swift and Defoe.”[45] These Revolutionary writers were not formally trained in the art of thought and writing; but they knew the works of men who were. These pamphleteers often cited the works of the Enlightenment thinkers in order to give their own works more authority. Sometimes this worked out well and sometimes it did not. As Bailyn observes, “The citations are plentiful, but the knowledge they reflect, like that of the ancient classics, is at times superficial. Locke is cited often with precision on points of political theory, but at other times he is referred to in the most offhand way, as if he could be relied on to support anything the writers happened to be arguing.”[46] This is not a very surprising revelation; these men were not classically trained but they were passionate about their cause. The same piece of writing could be presented to three different people, and upon reflection of what the piece meant to them the outcome could most certainly result in three completely different interpretations of the piece. These writers knew that the more they linked their ideas and notions to those of the Enlightenment the more credibility they would be given by the public; and if that meant stretching some quotes from Locke so that they just barely made a correlation with their writing then so be it. Similar to how there were certain Enlightenment writers that should always be quoted and/or praised, there were also those that should always be renounced. “Writers the colonists took to be opponents of Enlightenment rationalism – primarily Hobbes, Filmer, Sibthorpe, Mandeville, and Mainwaring – were denounced as frequently by loyalists as by patriots; but almost never, before 1776, were Locke, Montesquieu, Vattel, Beccaria, Burlamaqui, Voltaire, or even Rousseau.”[47]

In addition to Enlightenment writers the writers of the Revolution also looked to the classical writers for inspiration and affirmation of their cause. The number of classical writers cited was testimony to the fact that they were highly read in British society. After closely examining Revolutionary literature, Charles F. Mullet composed a list of all the classical writers that he found references to; they include: Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Euripides, Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Aristotle, Strabo, Lucian, Dio, Polybius, Plutarch, and Epictetus, among the Greeks; and Cicero, Horace, Vergil, Tacitus, Lucan, Seneca, Livy, Nepos, Sallust, Ovid, Lucretius, Cato, Pliny, Juvenal, Curtius, Marcus Aurelius, Petronius, Suetonius, Caesar, the lawyers Ulpian and Gaius, and Justinian, among the Romans. Even though many of these writers did not produce any work that contributed to supporting the American cause the Revolutionary writers continued to cite them to give their work a sense of authority; even going so far as to draw parallels between Greek and Roman History and their current situation.[48]

These men were wise, they knew that stating a position and then showing that the works of Caesar backed him up was much more affective than making a statement and the only rational is because he thought it to be true. In today’s world the equivalent of all of this quoting and citing would be similar to if there was a political debate between a member of the Democratic Party and a member of the Republican Party. If the democrat wanted to make sure his point had been made he would quote John F. Kennedy, if the republican wished to do the same he would quote Ronald Reagan; it is all about knowing your audience, and the Revolutionary pamphleteers knew who their audience was, any British colonist who felt abandoned by their government. The works of the classical writers validated the feelings of these colonists, or at least they did to a degree, the mere mention of their names perhaps meant more than whatever correlation had been drawn between their works and the present crisis in the colonies. “In the realm of political ideas, the colonial agitator used classical sources to prove both the existence and the validity of a law superior to all positive law, and to laud again and again the high value of individual freedom…When the English constitution with its emphasis on the rights of Englishmen failed to provide adequate succor, the colonial radicals turned to a law which transcended all human contrivances. On this foundation they erected their verbal and literary opposition to ‘taxation without representation’…Even though the letter of the classics could hardly supply much concrete aid in these particulars, the colonial pamphleteers could always appeal to the spirit of the ancient writers.”[49] The use of Greek and Latin in these works written for and by the American public showed that Americans were not barbarians; which is why “…men like Quincy or Dickinson or Otis seldom failed to clinch their contentions with a quotation from an impeccable classical author.”[50] These writers were not just invoking thoughts and topics for discussion they were stirring the feelings and emotions of their readers. Whether the reader was a loyalist or a brewing patriot anyone who was reading these works at the time was bound to have some sort of feeling about them one way or another. If all the citations did not prove relevant and all the facts did not necessarily line up that was fine; what these men were doing was helping their fellow colonists come to a full realization of their present situation and the conclusion that if they did not act soon it would be too late. Charles Mullet, who has written on the use of classical writings in the American Revolution, states that, “In listing the ‘founding fathers,’ it is not enough to include merely American patriots of the caliber of Jefferson, Franklin, and the Adamses. A place must also be found for men remote in time and distance from the British colonies in America.”[51]

The British colonists in America were entering a time that we could look at being their own Enlightenment Period. Although being a British citizen meant everything in the world to them the staunch reality that surrounded them was becoming too much. The king was forever coming down on them in one way or another and the colonists began to feel as though they were a child being punished, but the offense was unknown. These British citizens were beginning to feel more like slaves and “…by contrasting freedom to slavery the revolutionaries were giving an absolute value to freedom which it had not previously possessed, even in the intellectual tradition from which they drew.”[52] Bailyn comments on this very topic and poses the questions, “But why were not these manipulators of prerogative satisfied with amassing power at home? Why the attention to faraway provinces in America? Several answers were offered, besides the general one that power naturally seeks to drive itself everywhere, into every pocket of freedom. One explanation was that the court, having reached a limit in the possibilities of patronage and spoils in the British Isles, sought a quarrel with the colonies as an excuse for confiscating their wealth.”[53] The answer boils down to jealousy pure and simple. Here was the English king sitting on his throne on a land that had been worked and developed for centuries and was essentially barren of new possibilities. Meanwhile across the ocean his subjects are enjoying the fruit of a land that is seemingly endless is mass and potential. America had land and timber, two resources that England was running out of rapidly, not to mention the heads of industry and trade in America were starting to do well for themselves. There was no way that the King of England, God’s representative on Earth, was going to sit by while some mere colonists were prospering while the people in his own land were sinking. The solution was simple; tax everything possible in the colonies and absorb the wealth of America. Meanwhile the people in the colonies felt that they had been able to pave their own way because of their British citizenship. The rift that the King’s actions cause ran too deep, and that is when he began to lose control of his subjects.

The question is raised again why were these Revolutionary writers so important? They were important because their purpose coincided with the overall purpose of the American Revolution. Bernard Bailyn writes,

“For the primary goal of the American Revolution, which transformed American life and introduced a new era in human history, was not the overthrow of even the alteration of the existing social order but the preservation of political liberty threatened by the apparent corruption of the constitution, and the establishment in principle of the existing conditions of liberty. The communication of understanding, therefore, lat at the heart of the Revolutionary movement, and its great expressions, embodied and explanatory: didactic, systematic, and direct, rather than imaginative and metaphoric. They take the form of the most naturally of treatises and sermons, not poems; of descriptions, not allegories; of explanations, not burlesques. The reader is led through arguments, not images. The pamphlets aim to persuade.”[54]

Pamphlets allowed the everyday man to influence his neighbors without speaking to them directly. This was an age without cable, internet, and phone for $99.00 per month, there was no immediate source of information available to all people at all times. What they achieved was amazing considering the sources they had available to them. If they had the cost to print then they had the ability to have their say in how they believed that they should be governed. The original intention was never to have a full-blown war, but merely to once again be treated as British citizens, who they considered to be the most fortunate and free people in the world. The British government had so many opportunities to diffuse this situation but they charged through all of them, they were the parent and these American colonists were the children who were meant to be seen and not heard. The first shot may have been fired at the Battle of Lexington and Concord; but the revolution began long before then. Homer Calkin writes: “Whether the American Revolution would have been avoided if there had been no propagandist methods is difficult to state. However, it seems that it might very well have been delayed for some time without such writings as those of Samuel Adams, Thomas Paine and many others. The pamphlet, therefore, must be considered in a study of the American Revolution because of the place it occupied in presenting and forming the ideas and theories of the two sides in the many controversial questions which arose from 1763 to 1783.”[55]

These men were the voice of the people and it is through their work that we can assume to a degree what the average American colonist was thinking during the period leading up the American Revolution. Although there is no way of knowing how the revolution would have progressed without their influence it is safe to say that without them the inevitable would have only been postponed. These Revolutionary writers were not merely inspiring thought in their fellow colonists they were also letting others who shared in their opinions know that they were not alone in their observations of the current political environment. These ordinary men became household names and made their mark on American History, not only with their influence, but also by proving you do not need to have privileged beginnings to be regarded in the American colonies. This is very much an ideal that carries through America’s history in to today, that any citizen can not only improve their own situation, but take action to improve the situations of others. That is what the American pamphleteers accomplished in the years during and leading up to the American Revolution; they set the bar for all future Americans to protect the rights of their fellow man. To not only judge how the current government is affecting your life, but the lives of those around you; and if you have the ability to act on it, then you have the responsibility to act on it.

Much too often when studying the American Revolution we only turn to the works of the founding fathers, or the works of those who studied them; but they only have part of the story. Of course these men are important and they should be studied but there were many others who published works at the time that give us an even greater look in to the psyche of Revolutionary America. Men who perhaps were not born into the gentry and were not accustomed to be looked upon highly throughout their lives, but when the opportunity presented itself they took it and thereby left their mark, albeit small, on American History. The works of these men have remained with us for over 200 years; their thoughts and opinions were judged worthy enough to be protected and preserved through time. If the American pamphleteers have anything to teach us it is that everyone has a voice, and it is our duty as citizens to use our voice. When our basic liberties are being threatened we cannot simply stand aside and allow ourselves to become subservient to an unjust government; we must come forward and refuse to be treated in such a manner. Most Americans probably believe that the time for this kind of protest has come and gone, but it does not have to be that way. The American colonists took a stand against the most powerful empire in the world so that future generations of Americans would never have to be chastised by a corrupt government; it for this reason that American pamphleteers should not only be studied but honored.


[1] Homer L. Calkin, “Pamphlets and Public Opinion during the American Revolution,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 64, No. 1 (1940) 32.

[2] Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 3.

[3] Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 4.

[4] C.C. Bonwick, “An English Audience for American Revolutionary Pamphlets,” The Historical Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2 (1976) 363.

[5]Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 4-5.

[6] Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 5.

[7] Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 6.

[8]Homer L. Calkin, “Pamphlets and Public Opinion during the American Revolution,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 64, No. 1 (1940) 26.

[9] Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 6.

[10] Homer L. Calkin, “Pamphlets and Public Opinion during the American Revolution,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 64, No. 1 (1940) 26.

[11] Homer L. Calkin, “Pamphlets and Public Opinion during the American Revolution,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 64, No. 1 (1940) 27.

[12] Homer L. Calkin, “Pamphlets and Public Opinion during the American Revolution,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 64, No. 1 (1940) 27.

[13] Homer L. Calkin, “Pamphlets and Public Opinion during the American Revolution,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 64, No. 1 (1940) 28.

[14]Homer L. Calkin, “Pamphlets and Public Opinion during the American Revolution,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 64, No. 1 (1940) 28.

[15] Homer L. Calkin, “Pamphlets and Public Opinion during the American Revolution,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 64, No. 1 (1940) 31.

[16] C.C. Bonwick, “An English Audience for American Revolutionary Pamphlets,” The Historical Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2 (1976) 356.

[17] C.C. Bonwick, “An English Audience for American Revolutionary Pamphlets,” The Historical Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2 (1976) 355.

[18] C.C. Bonwick, “An English Audience for American Revolutionary Pamphlets,” The Historical Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2 (1976) 356

[19] C.C. Bonwick, “An English Audience for American Revolutionary Pamphlets,” The Historical Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2 (1976) 358.

[20] C.C. Bonwick, “An English Audience for American Revolutionary Pamphlets,” The Historical Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2 (1976) 358.

[21] C.C. Bonwick, “An English Audience for American Revolutionary Pamphlets,” The Historical Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2 (1976) 371.

[22] Thomas R. Adams, “Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society,” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 3rd Series, Vol. 81 (1969) 31.

[23] C.C. Bonwick, “An English Audience for American Revolutionary Pamphlets,” The Historical Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2 (1976) 373.

[24] C.C. Bonwick, “An English Audience for American Revolutionary Pamphlets,” The Historical Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2 (1976) 374.

[25] C.C. Bonwick, “An English Audience for American Revolutionary Pamphlets,” The Historical Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2 (1976) 359.

[26] C.C. Bonwick, “An English Audience for American Revolutionary Pamphlets,” The Historical Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2 (1976) 363.

[27] C.C. Bonwick, “An English Audience for American Revolutionary Pamphlets,” The Historical Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2 (1976) 363.

[28] C.C. Bonwick, “An English Audience for American Revolutionary Pamphlets,” The Historical Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2 (1976) 364.

[29] Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 671-672.

[30] Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 662.

[31] Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 411.

[32] Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 425

[33] Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 425.

[34] Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 436.

[35] Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 410.

[36] Alex Tuckness, “Discourses of Resistance in the American Revolution,” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 64, No. 4 (2003) 551.

[37] Alex Tuckness, “Discourses of Resistance in the American Revolution,” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 64, No. 4 (2003) 551.

[38] Bernard Bailyn. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992) 27.

[39] Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 599.

[40] Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 599.

[41] Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 619.

[42] Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 619.

[43] Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 627.

[44] Bernard Bailyn, ed. Pamphlets of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965) 628.

[45] Bernard Bailyn. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992) 13.

[46] Bernard Bailyn. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992) 28.

[47] Bernard Bailyn. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992) 27-28.

[48] Charles F. Mullet, “Classical Influences on the American Revolution,” The Classical Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2 (1939) 93.

[49] Charles F. Mullet, “Classical Influences on the American Revolution,” The Classical Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2 (1939) 95.

[50] Charles F. Mullet, “Classical Influences on the American Revolution,” The Classical Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2 (1939) 97.

[51] Charles F. Mullet, “Classical Influences on the American Revolution,” The Classical Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2 (1939) 104.

[52] Joyce Appleby, “Liberalism and the American Revolution,” The New England Quarterly, Vol. 49, No. 1 (1976) 23-24.

[53] Bernard Bailyn. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992) 128.

[54] Bernard Bailyn. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992) 19.

[55]Homer L. Calkin, “Pamphlets and Public Opinion during the American Revolution,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 64, No. 1 (1940) 42.

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