What Caused The Revolution?

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The leadership of the American Revolution was drawn from many sources—the clergy, the merchants, the planters, and the newspaper editors—but no single group was better able to articulate the colonial position within the political, legal, and constitutional framework of the Anglo-American debate than the men of the legal profession. Curiously, modern historians have done them less credit than did their contemporaries. …

Friends of the Crown at least were in no doubt of the legal profession’s pernicious influence. “The Lawyers are the Source from whence the Clamors have flowed in every Province,” General Gage assured the home government during the Stamp Act disorders. American Tories echoed the charge in their assertion that the lawyers were “cultivating, with unwearied Pains, the Seeds of Infatuation and Tumult.” … Cadwallader Golden, New York’s longtime royal lieutenant governor, … diagnosing the source of New York’s violent disorders in connection with the Stamp Act, … pictured himself as the helpless victim of the lawyers’ neardiabolical power:

“The Gentlemen of the Law, both the Judges and principal Practitioners at the Bar, are either Owners Heirs or strongly connected in family Interest with the Proprietors. … the power of the Lawyers is such that every Man is affraid of offending them and is deterr’d from makeing any public opposition to their power and the daily increase of it. … many Court their Friendship … they rule the House of Assembly in all Matters of Importance. …

“By this association, united in interest and family Connections with the proprietors of the great Tracts of Land, a Domination of Lawyers was formed in this Province. … A Domination founded on the same Principles and carried on by the same wicked artifices that the Domination of Priests formerly was. … Every Man’s character who dares to discover his Sentiments in opposition to theirs is loaded with infamy by every falsehood which malice can invent, and thereby exposed to the brutal Rage of the Mob. Nothing is too wicked for them to attempt which serves their purposes—the Press is to them what the Pulpit was in times of Popery. …”

Other observers … conceded the accuracy of his judgment. General Gage ascribed New York City’s Stamp Act troubles to the pervasive influence of the lawyers. “In this Province Nothing Publick is transacted without them.” Without the instigation of the lawyers and their merchantallies, “the inferior People would have been quiet.” A young British engineering officer, stationed in the city during the disturbances, corroborated the impression. While many people of property participated in the “disloyal Insur[r]ection,” he noted in his diary, the lawyers were “at the bottom” of it. They were the “Hornets and Firebrands. … The Planners and Incendiaries of the present Rupture.”