Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Virginia DeJohn Anderson

Second Advisor

Fred W. Anderson

Third Advisor

Ralph Mann

Fourth Advisor

Matthew Gerber

Fifth Advisor

Nan Goodman


This dissertation explores the crucial link between war and politics in Philadelphia during the American Revolution. It demonstrates how war exacerbated existing political conflicts, reshaped prewar political alliances, and allowed for the rise of new political coalitions, all developments that were tied to specific fluctuations in the progress of the military conflict.

I argue that the War for Independence played a central role in shaping Philadelphia’s contentious politics with regard to matters of balancing liberty and security. It was amidst this turmoil that the new state government sought to establish its sovereignty and at the same time fend off Pennsylvania’s British enemies. In so doing, the state government often exercised coercive wartime powers that it deemed necessary to ensure an American victory. Political leaders learned that war could be a political tool in achieving their aspirations. In times of excessive fear and violence, the public was far more likely to support aggressive wartime measures even at the cost of personal liberties. Yet once wartime fears dissipated or the government proved incapable of protecting citizens, the electorate would quickly redefine those coercive measures as abuses by an oppressive government. For eight long years, Pennsylvania’s government thus had to balance its use of wartime measures to ensure security without creating an internal political backlash from its own people. Philadelphians’ assessment of their government’s success in maintaining this delicate balance fluctuated in response to the ebbs and flows of the conduct of the war.

This dissertation tells the story of those governmental struggles as they played out against the backdrop of a military conflict that Pennsylvania’s officials could neither predict nor control. By intertwining the existing social and political history of Revolutionary-era Philadelphia and Pennsylvania with the military narrative, this dissertation enhances our understanding of the ways in which the war—its battles, logistical demands, governmental demands for allegiance, and perpetual uncertainty—helped to determine the course of politics in the city.