As the revolutionary war ended, members of committees, conventions and other extraordinary revolutionary institutions continued to operate as independent political actors. Between 1781 and at least 1786, committeemen and conventioneers launched forceful, violent efforts to reengineer American society. Committee-directed mobs expelled “tories” from many communities, and committeemen and conventioneers used both local laws and contract theory to legitimate these expulsions. This paper argues that the wave of political violence after the American victory at Yorktown in 1781 ultimately reflected conflicts within the American political community over who could be an American, what institutions constituted “the people” in a republic, and the character and limits of the “the people’s” power to form self-governing institutions. These disputes played an important role in creating the 1787 constitutional crisis.
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