Exploiting the Fear of Violence: Creating Solidarity during the Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary Era

AHA Session 231
Sunday, January 9, 2011: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Exeter Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Robert M. Calhoon, Journal of Backcountry Studies
Pauline Maier, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Session Abstract

This panel, titled, “The Uses of Violence: Creating Solidarity in the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary U.S.” examines how British American colonists and early national Americans exploited the fear of violence--shared by the public, the British Parliament, and the American government--to promote their own republican and liberal visions of a body politic. The papers presented in this session will be important to historians who want to understand the role of violence in the formation of political identity across the early modern world, as well as providing a valuable comparison to the papers presented in the mini-conference on religious, peace, and violence. The panel’s chair and commentator (respectively, Pauline Maier and Robert Calhoon) are both experts in the history of the American Revolution, especially the political ideologies of the period. Their demonstrated ability to connect developments in England and colonial America, and across the new states, will lend an added degree of coherence and perspective to the session.
Benjamin Carp’s paper, “The Use of Violence in Revolutionary Boston,”* *examines how Whig leaders effectively exploited colonial fears of crowd action to exert pressure against British policies. In the 1770s, Boston's Whig leaders professed to use mild tactics, yet they embraced crowd action as a vital weapon in the resistance to Parliament and its placement. In the face of civil officials or recalcitrant merchants who refused to bow to Whig pressure, they understood that the threat of crowd action was effective.
Ruma Chopra’s paper, “Loyalist Lessons from the 'Unnatural” Rebellion,'" examines how loyalist leaders, who shared the same Whiggish ideas about crowd action and violence, hoped to win support for their ideal of reunion by raising fears about the consequences of an unlawful, unnecessary, and “unnatural” rebellion. Some who opposed the use of violence in 1774-1775 learned the limits of non-violence by the end of the war. Their lessons would influence their approach to politics in the Maritimes.
Chris Beneke’s paper, ”Religious Violence and Religious Liberty in the Early National U.S.,” argues that the post-independence evocation of religious violence represented a useful polemical strategy for the leading advocates of church disestablishment rather than a depiction of contemporary realities. From the 1770s to the first decades of the nineteenth century, widely supported claims for religious liberty gained legitimacy while significant limits remained on the liberties enjoyed by African Americans, Native Americans, and religiously motivated pacifists—the objects of more recent examples of religious (or sacred) violence. Indeed, the promise of religious liberty disguised the “sacred violence” against African Americans and Native Americans.

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