Seized with the Temper of the Times

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A Reexamination of the Stamp Act riots in Rhode Island and the Regulator Rebellion in North Carolina

“Our personal rights, comprehending those of life, liberty, and estate is every subject’s birthright, whether born in Great Britain or in the colonies” wrote Rhode Island lawyer and politician Martin Howard in a pamphlet defending the Stamp Act. Howard’s opponents drew on a similar fusion of Anglo-American common law and political tradition to voice their own arguments against Parliamentary taxation. Still, such commonalities were not enough to save Howard during Newport’s Stamp Act riots when a mob destroyed his home and forced him to flee to London. Martin was later appointed North Carolina’s Chief Justice, where he played an important role in another crisis, the Regulator Rebellion. The complexities and seeming contradictions that informed the writings of Martin Howard and his colonial counterparts during both the Stamp Act crisis and the Regulator Rebellion bring these understudied movements to vivid life, while also telling a broader story about the evolution of American political thought in the decades surrounding the American Revolution.

In Seized with the Temper of the Times Identity and Rebellion in Pre-Revolutionary America, historian Abby Chandler explores, as never before, the complex local and transatlantic tensions which infused the early imperial crisis. She argues that colonial responses to the Stamp Act were rooted in local tensions and that the Regulator Rebellion was fueled by trans-Atlantic tensions. These two paradoxes, a local crisis cast as imperial affair and an imperial affair cast as local crisis, tell a very different story than the one to which we are accustomed. Without pre-existing local tensions, the fury of the Stamp Act crisis might not have spilled over during the summer of 1765, and, without the added strains of the imperial crisis, the Regulator Rebellion might not have lasted for five years. The questions about the intersecting roles of local and imperial/federal interests and identities raised during both the Stamp Act crisis and the Regulator Rebellion would also continue to inform political thought in Rhode Island and North Carolina in the coming decades. Both colonies had long histories of challenges to their autonomy and their residents embraced the coming revolution before many of their counterparts, but they would also be reluctant participants in the rising union envisioned by the framers of the Constitution.

By Abby Chandler, published by Westholme, 296 pages, hardcover.