Thomas N. Ingersoll's The Loyalist Problem in Revolutionary New England contributes to the growing body of scholarship on the Loyalists of the American Revolution by examining revolutionary perceptions and treatment of them in New England, with the aim of realizing the historian Robert Calhoon's long-unheeded call to integrate the Loyalists into our understanding of the Revolution as a whole. He makes a provocative argument about how Loyalist hostility to the revolutionaries played an important role in forcing revolutionaries to clarify—and modify—what they stood for. Loyalists attacked the revolutionaries as extremists who threatened to bring back the chaos of the English Civil Wars (1642–1651) and the despotism of Oliver Cromwell's regime (1653–1658). Both of these attacks by Loyalists confirmed the revolutionaries in their hostility to monarchy and aristocracy, and made it difficult for them to continue using the Revolution of 1649 as a model, despite their deep ties to its heritage. Like Gordon Wood, Ingersoll emphasizes the radical and democratic nature of the revolutionaries' ideology, but he differs from Wood in locating that ideology specifically in New England. Indeed, he argues that the need to win over their less militant compatriots from other regions forced New Englanders to tone down their radicalism—especially their appeal to the Revolution of 1649. As much as they excoriated the Loyalists in their rhetoric, New England revolutionaries were, according to Ingersoll, quite lenient in their treatment of the Loyalists. As he emphasizes, while the revolutionaries did pressure the Loyalists to proclaim allegiance to the revolutionary cause, they did so primarily through social ostracism—shunning—rather than through violence. Similarly, he argues, while confiscation of Loyalist estates did occur, the revolutionaries were slow and reluctant to adopt this policy, which mainly targeted a relatively small number of the most wealthy and intransigent Loyalists. Ingersoll claims that despite such restraint, the process of confiscating Loyalist estates had radical effects that far exceeded the amount of property involved. The participation of ordinary people in bringing down Loyalist elites undermined deference and fueled the egalitarian impulses of the American Revolution. Ingersoll places the Revolution in a transatlantic context by linking it to the English Revolution of 1649, but the nature of those linkages gives his analysis a somewhat “Whiggish”—to use Herbert Butterfield's well-known term—and teleological cast. He thus draws a direct line from the overthrow of King Charles I in 1649 to the American Revolution, writing, “the rebellion of 1773 was knit into a historic fabric stretching back to the king-killers and Levellers of 1649” (p. 7). Indeed, Ingersoll's analysis sometimes reads a bit like an updated version of the nineteenth-century historian George Bancroft's 1852 notoriously Whiggish history of the American Revolution as the flowering of New England Puritanism. Ingersoll also at times falls into the Whig trap of judging his subjects by modern standards, with his use of political labels such as “right wing,” which did not come into usage in the United States until later, or such statements as, “if they [New Englanders] were not yet modern, they were well on the way by their toleration of diversity” (p. 18). Hence, Ingersoll ends up reaffirming traditional stereotypes of the Loyalists as backward-looking monarchists—stereotypes that recent scholars of loyalism such as Maya Jasanoff and Edward Larkin have been at pains to dispel. Nevertheless, Ingersoll's book provides a useful starting point for the process of integrating the Loyalists into a broad understanding of American history. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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