Igniting The American Revolution: 1773-1775, by Derek W. Beck
It can be a compelling thing to read about how a war starts, especially one that is not particularly wanted by either side. Intriguingly enough, this war started in a fashion that Americans would not be unfamiliar with in the beginnings of wars, with ratcheting tension and the hope that conflict could be avoided and tense situations in a place with the most hot-headed of people that leads to an incident that neither side can back down from. Whether we are looking at Charleston in 1861 or Boston in 1775, there are some places where the recipes for the outbreak of war exist in such a fashion that it seems inevitable, and the author has written a compelling book about how it came to be that way, how the increasing pressure from England to humiliate and cow the Americans led the bumptious Americans to respond in force in such a way that empire could no longer be taken for granted or negotiated but was contested with force. And the book has the usual cast of characters one would expect, from a fierce King George III to Sam Adams to more obscure people who happened to be in the right place at the right time at a pivotal moment in human history.
This particular book is divided into two parts and eleven chapters and takes up a bit less than 300 pages of material. After a preface and acknowledgements, the author provides the first part of the book in four chapters that explore the increasing tensions between 1773 and 1774 (I). These chapters include a look at the Tea Party as the dawn of an epoch of conflict between the USA and Great Britain (1), the coercive reply of the British government that sought to overawe the Massachusetts people into a state of dependence (2), the army that they sent across the sea that was too small to control the colonies but large enough to provoke them (3), and the unstable peace that endured in Boston despite the increasing feeling of tension (4). The second part of the book then discusses the beginning of warfare between January and Mid-May 1775 (II), with chapters on the disquieting thaw over winter as Gage waited for orders (5), the preparations made on both sides for what was seen as a tense situation (6), the decision on the part of British political leadership to show the flag to restive country folk (7), the splitting of an empire as a result of the armed response of the colonials (8), the countryside unleashed in combat over the course of April 19, 1775 (9), the emboldened people who kept up a siege of Boston after chasing the imperial troops back from Concord (10), and the spreading flames of rebellion to other colonies (11). After this the book ends with an epilogue, abbreviations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index, and some information about the author, who has attempted and generally succeeded at being even-handed.
What does it take to ignite a revolution? In the case of the American Revolution, one as a history of salutary neglect that is changed when an empire figures it needs more from its settle colonies, while simultaneously looking down on them and viewing its resistance and pushback to increased taxation and regulation as being all talk and no action and thinking that a show of force will be enough to cow rebel sentiment. The results were predictable and lamentable. It is only surprising that the American colonies were the first to revolt successfully given the way that European imperialism, even in settler colonies, was frequently offensive to the dignity of anyone who happened to be from those colonies themselves. At any rate, this book provides a look at how pressure was ratcheted up until a revolution broke out that the British were not equipped to successfully handle despite having provoked it through coercive acts. Rarely has the folly of political leadership been repaid so quickly and so fitly as when the British lost most of their American colonies to independence less than two decades after having achieved a dominant position in North America.