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Book Review | John Miller | Origins of the American Revolution

It is hard to say that America was a completely mature and developed state in socio-economic and political sense at the time of the revolution, and that the Americans only had to win and to assert their independence. However, the premises of creating an independent state were present, and the American Revolution was the result of the fact that there appeared objective conditions for uniting the colonies into a single state. John Miller, being a professor at Harvard University, has attracted a large number of both American and British sources to study the origin of the American Revolution. Thus, we are going to review his book under the title Origins of the American Revolution with all necessary details in the body of this project.

First of all it is important to mention that for the purpose to explore the origin of the American Revolution John Miller visited Europe twice, and used for the own book an information taken from the rich archives of the British Museum. In addition, Miller also used many publications and archives of historical societies of the several states, notably Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, materials of the Library of Congress (Washington DC), Harvard University Library, the Public Library in New York, and an archive of the American Philosophical Society. Into the acknowledgement of this fact it is possible to use Miller’s words, who mentioned that “this book owes much to the Society of Fellows of Harvard University, who made it possible for me to continue my research in American History; and to Mr. Ellery Sedgwick, who has given me a wealth of wise counsel” (Miller, 1943). But using as much as possible sources of information, Miller also paid less attention to the sources relating to participation in the revolution of the southern states, which adversely affected the whole work.

Observing the structure of the book, it is important to mention that professor Miller prefaces two chapters, which address the issue of economic, ideological and political causes of the revolution, to a presentation of the actual course of events covering the period from the end of the Seven Years’ War to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. For instance, explaining a position of British Empire concerning the problem, Miller wrote that “It became increasingly clear to Americans during the eighteenth century that the British Empire was not, as the mercantilists envisaged, a government of King, Lords, and Commons in which the welfare of the whole empire was the chief concern of imperial legislation, but a government of British merchants and manufacturers who pursued their own interests even at the expense of the colonists” (Miller, 1943). At the same time, the author attributes the primary importance to political factors, and the difference of ideologies he considers the following factors in order of importance. Of course, Miller does not deny economic reasons, but he gives them a low priority. Miller demonstrated that “After 1764, however, the financial stringency became so acute that the merchants were driven to the conclusion that paper money was essential to their prosperity” (Miller, 1943).

Being critical and making more deep analysis of the first chapter, we can mention that exactly referring to economic issues, the author gives an interesting material, showing that the metropolis condemned the own colonies to a permanent economic inferiority. Colonies were destined to play a very modest role to supply the metropolis and its industry with all the necessary raw materials and colonial goods, such as sugar, tobacco, cotton, timber, furs, molasses, rice, etc. A trade in these commodities was monopolized by the mother country, and English merchants were extracted with huge profits (Miller, 1943). In such a way, all profits from the re-export to the continent remained in the pockets of British merchants. For the purpose to illustrate the significance of the losses of the colonists, Miller used the following example of tobacco exports: 82 thousands large barrels of tobacco leaf (from 96 possible) were re-exported from England, and the planters were losing something about £ 3 Sterling on every barrel (Miller, 1943). Moreover, also due to the significant fall in prices of tobacco, rich planters became insolvent debtors of trading houses in London, Liverpool and other ports. Plantation economy of the colonies, where the tobacco was at the time the main crop, has experienced a severe crisis.

In my opinion, Miller used very right strategy to show specific ways how American economy grew in a traditional to all colonies way.

Owing to Miller’s explanations, it became understandable that metropolis exported overseas its industrial products, getting a fairly good profit from it. As for the colonies, their destiny was to supply mostly raw materials, which served as source material for British industry. In accordance with the economic doctrine of the time, these relationships were built on the principles of mercantilism. Trade with the colonies was a means of enriching England on the strict condition of a favorable balance of trade for it, when the amount of exported goods exceeded the amount of imported raw materials.

Thus, we have observed the book Origins of the American Revolution written by John Miller, and have explained its historical significance, using the information about American historical and economical development as a good example.


Work cited:

Miller, John C. Origins of the American Revolution. Little, Brown, 1943.