Title: The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence
Author: Timothy Breen
Year: 2004
Categories: Economic History, Consumer Revolution, Revolutionary War
Place: American Colonies
Time Period: 1740-1774

Argument Synopsis
T.H. Breen works within the historiographic vein of the "consumer revolution," which examines the emergence in the early to mid-18th century of an increasingly active consumer market in the American colonies. It was within this context, Breen argues, that American colonists developed a new social consciousness after the 1740s based on consumer choice that set the stage for later clashes with Britain. Breen examines three waves of protest: 
1. Reaction to the Stamp Act in 1765-1766, 
2. Reaction to the Townshend Acts from 1767-1770
3. Reaction to the Tea Act in 1773-1774

During these successive waves, Breen argues that an emergent liberal consciousness of "bourgeois virtue" centered itself on consumer choice. In place of traditional interpretations of "republican virtue," Breen thinks that individual choice within a marketplace was the catalyst for transforming private purchasing decisions into public rituals for a greater, common good. Over this decade, this "bourgeois virtue" manifested itself in increasingly coherent political mobilization, ranging from subscription lists, boycotts, public shaming, property destruction, and extra-legal committees and associations. 

In particular, these methods coalesced during middle wave in reaction to the Townshend Acts and, in Breen's opinion, did more than anything else to tie together a common "American" identity based on consumer choice that linked in solidarity a phenomenally dispersed and diverse population. This is one of Breen's major interpretative positions: that ideological interpretations of the American Revolution (such as Bailyn's) fail to account for just how difficult it was to knit together such a far-flung and heterogeneous population into "Americans." Throughout this process, Breen notes how non-importation required a more egalitarian spirit, briefly empowering both women and poor people in the process. In this narrative, the Boston Tea Party becomes more of a coda rather than the catalyst, the culmination of a decades-long solidification of an American political consciousness based on consumerism. 

Key Themes and Concepts
- Britain as an "Empire of Goods" that produced a new social consciousness in Americans after 1740
- New liberal consciousness/"bourgeois virtue" - individual choices in a market context
- Private consumption transformed into public ritual
- Consumer boycott as an American invention
- Egalitarian spirit of non-consumption briefly empowered poor people and women

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U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries by Cameron Blevins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.