"The Mobs All Cryd Peace With America": The Gordon Riots and Revolution in England and America

Thumbnail Image


Michalak_umd_0117E_23227.pdf (1.79 MB)
No. of downloads:

Publication or External Link





In June 1780, London was brought to its knees by a week-long insurrection. Rioters broke open and set ablaze nearly all of London’s prisons, ransacked and burned the properties of government officials, and attacked the Bank of England. The riots were in response to the British government’s rejection of a mass petition demanding the repeal of a 1778 law granting rights to Catholic subjects to encourage enlistment in the military to fight in the American Revolutionary War. The rioters’ reaction to the rejected petition reflected broader, transatlantic concerns about government operating without the consent of the governed, echoing grievances raised by American colonists prior to their declaring independence. To regain control over London, George III ordered 15,000 troops into the city, commanding them to bypass the necessary approval of civil magistrates and fire-at-will, hence abandoning legal restrictions on his power. After the insurrection was over, American Patriots and Loyalists deliberated at length over their meaning; many Britons, in turn, blamed the riots on dangerous ideologies and American conspirators.

This dissertation explores how the June 1780 riots demonstrate the connections between the American Revolution and wider struggles across the British empire. While building on scholarship of the riots, British politics, and the American Revolution, I argue that these riots brought the American rebellion home to British soil, posing a significant challenge to the stability of the British nation and empire. I examine how the riots gave rise to rumors about the true culprit behind the uprising, with different groups laying blame at the feet of Catholics or Methodists, or as a plot of the British Ministry or the Americans and French. I interrogate how Patriots and Loyalists utilized the riots to reaffirm commitment to their political ideologies. I explore how news of the insurrection influenced delicate diplomatic negotiations amidst an imperial war. By investigating the myriad connections between the London riots and the American Revolution, I show how power was contested on both sides of the Atlantic and how ideas and information spread and shaped political ideology. In doing so, I argue that the London riots were a crucial event during the American Revolution.