Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution by Benjamin Carp
The best aspect of Ben Carp’s book is how he returns discussion of the origins of the American Revolution to an urban setting. He persuasively argues that urban centers (such as Boston and Charleston) were the centers of political mobilization of all classes of people before Lexington and Concord. Carp highlights four distinct “locations” within cities in which people became politically mobilized: the water front, the taverns, the household, the church, and “out of doors.”
The most convincing chapter in the book is where Carp sketches out the connection between taverns and the mobilization of New York City. Carp’s argument and evidence shines here and he aptly makes the connection between tavern drinking culture and its political mobilization and political violence. I also appreciated his highlighting the fact that religious divisions were an impediment to political mobilization, especially in New England.
The book has two weaknesses, however. The first is that Carp could have discussed more fully loyalist/British counter-mobilization to patriot political activity. While such a discussion may have reshaped the book into something beyond what Carp wanted, I think it would have added an important texture to his argument and really show the give and take between completing factions that is so important in political mobilization. Finally, he over sells the eclipse of cities in the post-Revolutionary era. He is right to highlight their decline during the war immediate post-war period. However, he is wrong to carry that analysis into the early republic and Jacksonian eras. Cities played important roles as sites of political mobilization and in national and state politics – for example, New York City played a vital role in the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800. Say what you will Federalist fears of disorderly mobs and Jeffersonian agrarian idealism, in the early 19th century American cities rose in prominence, population, and political clout. Carp buys too much into the myths he seeks to topple for this later period.
That said, Rebels Rising is a great and refreshing urban history of the origins of the American Revolution.