An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America
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Finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in History
Written from a strikingly fresh perspective, this new account of the Boston Tea Party and the origins of the American Revolution shows how a lethal blend of politics, personalities, and economics led to a war that few people welcomed but nobody could prevent.
“A great Empire, like a great Cake, is most easily diminished at the edges,” observed Benjamin Franklin, shortly before the American Revolution. In An Empire on the Edge, British author Nick Bunker delivers a powerful and propulsive narrative of the road to war. At the heart of the book lies the Boston Tea Party, when the British stumbled into an unforeseen crisis that exposed deep flaws in an imperial system sprawling from the Mississippi to Bengal. Shedding new light on the Tea Party’s origins and on the roles of such familiar characters as Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Thomas Hutchinson, and the British ministers Lord North and Lord Dartmouth, Bunker depicts the last three years of deepening anger on both sides of the Atlantic, culminating in the irreversible descent into revolution.
Navy surrounding Boston and redcoats laying siege to the Liberty Tree while supplies of cod arrive to feed the town. Library of Congress By the end of May, Josiah Quincy Jr. had already produced a pamphlet making this very point. As befits a Bostonian, Quincy had a lawyer’s eye for detail. He focused on one especially sensitive clause in the Boston Port Act. Instead of setting a limit on the closure of the port or giving the governor the discretion to end it, Parliament had said that the port
anniversary on January 30 of the execution of King Charles I, Bishop Brownlow North gave a platitudinous sermon in Westminster Abbey on the evils of political discord. The following day his half brother read another of the endless letters about turmoil in America. At a different place called Portsmouth, this time in New Hampshire, the rebels had struck again, under the leadership of Paul Revere, seizing a fort and a magazine full of gunpowder. On December 14, under the cover of falling snow,
Abraham Whipple, John B. Hopkins, Joseph Tillinghast, and Samuel Dunn (sea captains); Ephraim Bowen (son of Ephraim Bowen, MD); and Joseph Bucklin. Whipple and Bucklin were schoolhouse trustees: Providence Town Papers, MS 214, vol. 2 (1761–75), fol. 35, RIHS. Celebrations in 1826: Rhode Island American, July 4, 1826; and Newport Mercury, July 8, 1826. 23. For an expanded discussion of this point, see John Phillip Reid, In a Defiant Stance: The Conditions of Law in Massachusetts Bay, the Irish
29, 1772, in Historical Manuscripts Commission, 14th report, The Manuscripts of the Earl of Dartmouth, Vol. 2, American Papers (London, 1895), pp. 91–92. 12. Jurisdiction of King’s Bench: Lord Mansfield’s judgment in the case of Rex v. Cowle (1759), in Sir James Burrow, Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Court of King’s Bench, 1756–1772 (London, 1790), vol. 2, pp. 856–57. Important for understanding British lawyers’ attitudes to America, Cowle’s case involved issues similar to those
another, they knew firsthand the effect of rising prices. Unable to measure the speed with which the population was starting to grow—the first national census was three decades into the future—they could not explain why food was becoming so expensive; but in the rural landscape where they spent the holidays, they saw the results. In April, the first signs of unrest appeared in Essex and Suffolk, where the price of a four-pound loaf of bread and a pint of beer cost ten pennies, compared with