The author introduces readers to the ordinary men and women who took responsibility for the course of the American Revolution. Far from the actions of the Continental Congress and the Continental Army, they took the reins of power and preserved a political culture based on the rule of law, creating America's political identity in the process.
The Will of the People 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 small communities across the fledgling nation who daily sustained the fight for independence via a new vehicle of political activism, the committee. In the early days of revolt and continuing through the long conflict, Committees of Safety (or other similarly named associations) sprang up across the colonies ... The organization and policing of resistance is a big theme in Breen’s work, woven seamlessly into chapters examining a different element of the people’s 'emotional environment,' such as rejection, assurance, fear, justice, betrayal, and revenge. In each case, Breen steps back to allow the people’s voice to supply the narrative through a rich surfeit of primary sources ... Breen has written an extremely well-paced and engaging account of those who never enjoyed the attentions of history. Until now.
...the book moves through a thematic outline that closely mirrors the chronology of the war. By examining what he calls the different stages of the revolution, Professor Breen is able to uncover consistent themes that helped not only maintain the colonists’ revolutionary commitment, but curb the potential excesses of revolutionary fervor ... The chapter on the reintegration of the Loyalists after peace was achieved in 1783 is particularly fascinating ... As a successor volume to his earlier work, American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People, Professor 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.
...assiduous research ... Breen...looks at the Loyalists themselves—their own actions and fears—and helps us to understand their motivations. By exploring numerous sermons from the day, he shows how religious leaders encouraged the Revolution, especially by emphasizing Old Testament analogies. The author does not ignore the intractable issue of race. He shows us that the Northern revolutionaries, especially, were quite aware of the hypocrisy of bellowing about freedom while countless people were hopelessly enslaved. In several places—and at the very end—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.