Book Summary and Review: Tobacco Culture: The Mentality of the Great Tidewater Planters on the Eve of Revolution
During the middle of the eighteenth century in the America, particularly in Virginia, tobacco farmers managed to secure a relevant position and contribution in the society. Author T. H. Breen managed to provide a detailed discussion about these tobacco farmers in the book “Tobacco Culture: The Mentality of the Great Tidewater Planters on the Eve of Revolution” (2001). In the book, the author chronicled particularly the lives of the tobacco farmers in the great Tidewater planters. It has been found out, nonetheless, that these farmers had later become the fathers of the American Revolution. These men include George Washington and Thomas Jefferson who are revered in historical texts as one of the founding fathers of the American nation. Together with their contemporaries, they were both considered as elite farmers and anxious farmers. Among their worries include sustaining the production cycle, managing the risks involved in trans-Atlantic shipping, and maintaining a relationship in otherwise uneasy English merchants. Despite living dominated by worry about being indebted from people who lived in another continent, in addition to yearnings to achieve autonomy, these tobacco farmers were still able to give meaning to their existence. Author T. H. Breen was able to explain and explore the reason behind the positivity of these farmers. Accordingly, the discussion expounded on the so-called tobacco culture, which is characterized by value-laden relationship. Such culture had transpired in the realms of both the tobacco plantation fields and the marketplaces. As these cultures and their values of personal honor and autonomy were threatened, they felt no less than the need to stood up and break up the existing political and economic system that had been jeopardizing them.
The book is an interesting and informative read. Author T. H. Breen was able to provide a historical account of the American Revolution that far differs from the conventional accounts found in historical textbooks or other academic references. Perhaps, it can be considered that the defining characteristic of the whole book is its thesis, which actually is a novel insight about the cause and effect of the American Revolution. The author was able to pinpoint the beginning of the revolution as a movement that begun in the tobacco plantation fields, among the so-called elite farmers who later became the fathers of both the revolution and the American nation. The struggles of the farmers were captured and discussed thoroughly, showing how the British merchants had indebted them and how such situation endangered the future of the people.
While it is true that the book has been positioned in the context of the history of revolution, it can definitely be regarded that is also a reliable reference for exploring the early economy of America, specifically the tobacco farming sector. As mentioned in the book, tobacco farming was prevalent and farmers were no less than elite. The demand for tobacco was so great that the Americans became an exporter. Most of the tobacco products were shifted in the European continent, particularly in Britain. It is, however, important to note that the tobacco economy was volatile. There were numerous problems in shipping tobacco which had caused insecurities in the part of the problems. In addition, British merchants or agents were considered uneasy to deal with. They tend to impose terms and conditions that were deemed as unfavorable to the tobacco farmers. As the book details out the process of farming and harvesting tobacco as well as the farming techniques and conditions of that time, it also touches on the issue concerning the uncertainty in the production cycle.
The so-called tobacco culture has been put at the core of the whole discussion about the tobacco economy and the revolution. Despite uncertainties and insecurities in the endeavor of tobacco farming, farmers were able to showcase their resilience. They did so by facing the problems while maintaining a positive disposition. Despite being indebted, they went on to continue farming. Subsequently, the farmers had felt the strong need to defend their interest and welfare. They value autonomy and personal honor so much that they could not stand being economically insecure and being pushed around by others. The elite farmers were nonetheless quick to respond to the situation and they are successful in mobilizing themselves, launching political protests, and ultimately trouncing the prevailing but jeopardizing economical and political system of that time. Perhaps, one of the reasons the elites didn’t mind the probability of losing everything they own by participating in the revolution is that they were able to consider and prioritize goals and causes that have greater implications for all. These actions exemplify one of those instances in which the Americans had fought for their liberty.
The book “Tobacco Culture: The Mentality of the Great Tidewater Planters on the Eve of Revolution” definitely has lived up to its title. Author T. H. Breen’s main thesis revolves around the fact that the American Revolution was an outward expression of the farmers’ mentality that speak of profound valuation toward personal honor, autonomy, and value-laden relationships which all had constituted the so-called tobacco culture. This thesis is of course a unique way in looking at the American Revolution as it does away from the conventions. Instead of merely stating what transpired during the actual American Revolution, or instead of just detailing out the superficial causes of the revolution, Breen resorted to digging deeper into the very core of the movement. The American elites, specifically the tobacco farmers supported the revolution because they valued freedom so much and they didn’t want to jeopardize the future of America. For these early movers and shakers of the emerging American society and American nationalism, the revolution was a way to express their inner desires of protecting their values and their predisposition toward liberty.
Breen T. H. Tobacco Culture: The Mentality of the Great Tidewater Planters on the Eve of Revolution. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 2001