Thomas, Peter David Garner 1930-
THOMAS, Peter David Garner 1930-
PERSONAL: Born May 1, 1930, in Bangor, Wales; son of David Thomas and Doris (Davies) Thomas; married, 1963; wife's name Sheila (marriage ended, 1992); children: Alan, Michael (deceased), Sally. Ethnicity: "Welsh." Education: University of Wales, University College of North Wales, Bangor, B.A., M.A.; University College, London, Ph.D. Hobbies and other interests: Lawn tennis.
ADDRESSES: Home—16 Pen-y-Craig, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 2JA, Wales.
CAREER: Writer. University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland, lecturer, 1956–65; University of Wales, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, lecturer, 1965–68, senior lecturer, 1968–71, reader, 1971–75, professor of history, 1976–97, professor emeritus, 1997–. Dyfed LTA, chair, 1981–2001; Aberystwyth Liberal Democrats, chair, 1988–98.
MEMBER: Royal Historical Society (fellow).
AWARDS, HONORS: Book Prize, Society of Cincinnati, 1992, for Tea Party to Independence: The Third Phase of the American Revolution, 1773–1776.
Lord North, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1976.
(Editor, with R. C. Simmons) Proceedings and Debates of the British Parliaments Respecting North America, 1754–1783, six volumes, Kraus International (Millwood, NY), 1982–86.
The English Satirical Print, 1600–1832: The American Revolution, Chadwyck-Healey (Alexandria, VA), 1986.
The Townshend Duties Crisis: The Second Phase of the American Revolution, 1767–1773, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1987.
Tea Party to Independence: The Third Phase of the American Revolution, 1773–1776, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1991.
Revolution in America: Britain and the Colonies, 1763–1776, University of Wales Press (Cardiff, Wales), 1992.
John Wilkes: A Friend to Liberty, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1996.
Politics in Eighteenth-Century Wales, University of Wales Press (Cardiff, Wales), 1998.
Author of introduction to The American Revolution (cartoons), by Michael Duffy.
SIDELIGHTS: Peter David Garner Thomas is one of the chief academic historians of Wales and an expert who specializes in the American Revolution. Born in Bangor, in North Wales, Thomas was educated locally and then went to London to take his doctorate in history, studying under Sir Lewis Namier. His doctoral thesis was on Parliamentary practice and procedure, and was expanded for publication as his first book, The House of Commons in the Eighteenth Century. His main research thereafter has been for a three-volume history of the political events surrounding the American Revolution, a trilogy destined to become standard reading in university curricula. British Politics and the Stamp Act Crisis: The First Phase of the American Revolution, 1763–1767 depicts the initial stages of the policy war that raged between the British government and the colonies in the face of widespread protests against various new taxes. Thomas followed this volume in short order with his biography of Lord North, Prime Minister under George III; a moderate, according to Thomas, whose even-handed approach to colonial governance was constantly undermined by the many politicians who held other agendas.
Thomas was quickly recognized as one of the most distinguished scholars of the Revolution from the other side of the Atlantic, and was asked to contribute a volume to Michael Duffy's extensive historical survey of the English satirical cartoon; this one to deal with the Revolutionary period, a time when the editorial cartoon came into its own for the first time. The resulting book, The American Revolution, consisted of 122 cartoons accompanied by a nineteen-page introduction by Thomas documenting a time when politically provocative drawings were sold like postcards in the streets of London. In his introduction, Thomas draws attention to the contents of certain cartoons which, far from supporting the official policies of Lord North's administration, come down squarely against them; indicating, according to Thomas, the influence of the political opinions of the English mercantile class.
Thomas continued his account of the British side of the American Revolution in The Townshend Duties Crisis: The Second Phase of the American Revolution, 1767–1773, a record of the events leading up to the Boston Tea Party and the outbreak of open hostilities between the colonial forces and the burgeoning revolutionary movement. Unlike most histories of the Revolution, which tend to focus on events in the colonies themselves, Thomas follows the developments in Britain and tracks the political moves of the British regime. He demonstrates, using both primary and later historical sources, that the true breaking point in relations between England and the American colonies did not come, as is generally held, at the time of the "Intolerable Acts" and the Tea Party, but earlier, at the time of the imposition of the Townshend duties, named for George III's Chancellor of the Exchequer; these replaced the repealed Stamp Act taxes with a general tariff on goods coming into the colonies from England. Thomas portrays a British government locked in a constant, shifting struggle to strike the right balance in dealing with the colonies and plagued by all manner of unrelated and distracting difficulties at home and abroad.
Critics have praised The Townshend Duties Crisis for its consistent and well-argued opposition to conventional wisdom about Lord North's administration. Thomas pursued this high-political look at the circumstances surrounding the independence of the colonies in his follow-up text, the final installment of his historical trilogy: Tea Party to Independence: The Third Phase of the American Revolution. The book was awarded the 1992 Society of Cincinnati Book Prize as the best book published between 1989 and 1991 on American history before 1800. Paul Langford in his Times Literary Supplement review, wrote: "Professor Thomas's essential technique has remained the same throughout [his books on the Revolution]: superbly paced and developed historical narrative interspersed by rigorous analysis, not to say trenchant argument." What ultimately lay at the root of the Revolutionary conflict, Thomas says in summation, was neither taxation nor an increasingly unbalanced and authoritarian British King, but simply the absolute control exercised by the British parliament over the colonies and, to a surprising extent, over George III himself.
While Thomas devoted most of his professional life to the Revolution, his chief area of expertise was ultimately the British parliament in the Eighteenth century. He diverted his energies away from the Revolution shortly after publishing his first book in order to look more closely at Lord North, and, having concluded his trilogy, he turned his attention to another great parliamentarian: John Wilkes. Famous in his own day, Wilkes lapsed quickly into relative obscurity, but he introduced many essential political reforms during his career. While most treatments of Wilkes in the past have focused on the excesses of his personal life and his cavalier attitude toward conventional mores, Thomas, without sugar-coating or "pedestalizing" Wilkes, insists on his more important historical contributions. To a considerable extent, it was Wilkes who opened the cliquish English Parliament, which for generations had been dominated by a handful of political families, to representatives from further afield in the nation. He also, at great personal and professional risk, sued to throw open the Parliament to the press, and won early journalists the opportunity and right to record and publicly report parliamentary proceedings in much greater detail. For the first time, the common man in the street could get an idea of how he was being represented by his member of Parliament—thanks to Wilkes. A "friend to liberty," according to Wilkes's own obituary notice, Wilkes more or less accurately predicted the outcome of the Revolutionary conflict, publicly advocated religious and social tolerance, and opposed undemocratic abuses of power by cabinet ministers. Thomas filled in a sizeable gap in the historical record with his biography.
Thomas told CA: "I did likewise in a political survey of Wales in the eighteenth century, covering constituency elections, Jacobism, radicalism, and the parliamentary role of Welsh members of Parliament. In 2002 I fulfilled another ambition by a chronological account of the politics of George III's first decade, written as a Namierite interpretation, but also relating policy attitudes to specific ministries and political groups, so as to establish the extent to which party politics existed."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, February, 1989, J. M. Sosin, review of The Townshend Duties Crisis: The Second Phase of the American Revolution, 1767–1773, p. 212; April, 1993, J. M. Sosin, review of Tea Party to Independence: The Third Phase of the American Revolution, 1773–1776, p. 556; June, 1998, James E. Bradley, review of John Wilkes: A Friend to Liberty, p. 883.
Books, April, 1996, review of John Wilkes, p. 22.
Choice, April, 1988, review of The Townshend Duties Crisis, p. 1298; September, 1992, J. R. Breihan, review of Tea Party to Independence, p. 199; April, 1997, review of John Wilkes, p. 1399; September, 1998, F. Coetzee, review of Politics in Eighteenth-Century Wales, p. 207.
English Historical Review, April, 1987, Jeremy Black, review of The English Satirical Print, 1600–1832: The American Revolution, p. 427; November, 1994, Ian R. Christie, review of Tea Party to Independence, p. 1287; February, 1998, John Cannon, review of John Wilkes, p. 197.
Historian, May, 1989, Frank C. Mevers, review of The Townshend Duties Crisis, p. 500; summer, 1993, Thom M. Armstrong, review of Tea Party to Independence, p. 799; summer, 1998, James J. Sack, review of John Wilkes, p. 915.
History: Journal of the Historical Association, October, 1992, H. M. Scott, review of Tea Party to Independence, p. 517; April, 1998, John Derry, review of John Wilkes, p. 352.
History Today, March, 1987, p. 47; October, 1991, p. 55; September, 1992, J. E. Morpurgo, review of Tea Party to Independence, p. 55; April, 1996, review of John Wilkes, p. 54.
International History Review, August, 1993, review of Revolution in America: Britain and the Colonies, 1763–1776, pp. 571-572.
Journal of American History, December, 1988, Benjamin W. Labaree, review of The Townshend Duties Crisis, p. 920; December, 1989, Colin Bonwick, review of The Townshend Duties Crisis, p. 482; March, 1993, J. C. A. Stagg, review of Tea Party to Independence, p. 1589.
Journal of British Studies, January, 1998, Philip Harling, review of John Wilkes, p. 91.
Journal of Economic History, September, 1988, Joseph Ernst, review of The Townshend Duties Crisis, p. 775.
London Review of Books, March 20, 1986, p. 19; August 1, 1996, review of John Wilkes, p. 13.
New York Review of Books, August 1, 1996, p. 13.
Reviews in American History, September, 1988, review of The Townshend Duties Crisis, p. 362.
Times Literary Supplement, October 30-November 5, 1987, review of The Townshend Duties Crisis, p. 1186; December 20, 1991, Paul Langford, review of Tea Party to Independence, p. 12; October 18, 1996, H. T. Dickinson, review of John Wilkes, p. 30; September 25, 1998, John Cannon, review of Politics in Eighteenth-Century Wales, p. 30.
William and Mary Quarterly, April, 1989, Richard R. Johnson, review of The Townshend Duties Crisis, p. 399; July, 1992, John Sainsbury, review of Tea Party to Independence, p. 554.