February 2020


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American colonists loved tea and wished to acquire it cheaply. Parliament’s Tea Act of 1773, however, made that impossible. As an anonymous New York writer at the time explained, colonists would pay “a duty which is a tax for the Purpose of raising a Revenue from us without our own consent, and tax, or duty, is therefore unconstitutional, cruel, and unjust.” It was an effort to help the financially struggling East India Company. In protest, some ports halted or sent back their shipments of tea. In Boston, in December of 1773, men disguised as Native Americans destroyed 342 chests of tea. The term “Boston Tea Party” wasn’t used until the next century, but the action was controversial and set in motion crucial actions and discussions that lasted until mid-April 1775.

The vigorous debates regarding freedom and liberty during that period prepared the country for what was to follow in 1776. Drawing on correspondence, newspapers and pamphlets, noted historian Mary Beth Norton brings that 16-month period vividly alive in her meticulously documented and richly rewarding 1774: The Long Year of Revolution.

Support for resistance to King George III was far from unanimous. Loyalists sought to deal rationally with Parliament on the Tea Act and other issues. The proposal to elect a congress to coordinate opposition tactics came not from radical leaders but from conservatives who hoped for reconciliation with Britain. Loyalists to England, not the revolutionaries, were the most vocal advocates for freedom of the press and strong dissenting opinions. But shortsighted decisions from London often moved these conservatives in the opposite direction. 

This important book demonstrates how opposition to the king developed and shows us that without the “long year” of 1774, there may not have been an American Revolution at all.

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