Abstract: Several recent locality-focused studies suggest that the American Revolution was not particularly 'revolutionary'. These studies note continuity of pre and post-independence institutions and local leadership. But the American Revolution was experienced differently in different communities, and the American Revolution was likely more 'revolutionary' along the military frontiers—the subset of localities that experienced prolonged civil warfare—than in more peaceful locales. This study examines one wartorn locality, Monmouth County, New Jersey, to substantiate this hypothesis. The American Revolution split the pre-war leadership in Monmouth County into Whig and Loyalist blocs, and about half of the county's pre-war leaders dropped out of leadership as the war began. The gaps created by Loyalists dropping out of leadership plus the approximate doubling of local offices created a permeable and democratic, new leadership. Men of modest means came into leadership positions; men disaffected from the cause of independence continued being elected into local offices. Local leaders split into antagonistic factions that faced off at the polls, in the courts, and through a series of rival associations. Local political institutions, such as courts and elections, were scandal-plagued and dysfunctional for long stretches. The State legislature was compelled to censure county leaders for provocative and illegal conduct; twice, it voided the results of the county elections. The crucible of civil warfare created extraordinary stresses in Monmouth County, and by war's end, its leadership and governing institutions were substantially transformed. The pre-war elite were marginalized, new families achieved parity with established families in the leadership ranks, local institutions were re-made, and, despite the tribulations, competent local governance eventually emerged.
Journal of the Early Republic – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: Aug 11, 2011