We tend to think of tarring and feathering as the quintessential mob action in Revolutionary America. Actually, the Sons of Liberty - or as the Royalists sometimes referred to them, the "Sons of Violence" - were more likely to target the property rather than the persons of those who opposed their cause. This practice was a feature of the New York rent wars during the decades preceding Lexington and Concord, in which threats were made by angry tenants to level the houses of various lords of the manor. The leveling spirit was not restricted to such agrarian revolts, but took hold in the cities as well.
Pulling down houses was a significant feature of mob actions in Boston leading up to the Revolution. Lt. Governor Hutchinson's home was systematically destroyed by a mob during the stamp tax crisis:
After attacking the handsome houses of the deputy register of the Vice Admiralty Court and the comptroller of Customs, a crowd of men in workaday garb descended on Hutchinson's mansion. Catching the Lieutenant Governor at dinner with his family, the crowd smashed in the doors with axes and sent the Hutchinsons packing. Working with almost military precision, they reduced the furniture to splinters, stripped the walls bare, chopped through inner partitions until the house was a hollow shell, destroyed the formal gardens, drank the wine cellar dry, stole nine hundred pounds sterling in coin (today this would be about $90,000), scattered books and papers in the street, and carried off every movable object of value...(T)he crowd worked into the night, spending almost three hours alone "at the cupola before they could get it down", and then finishing off the building as dawn broke. "Gentlemen of the army, who have seen towns sacked by the enemy" wrote one the first historians of the Revolution, Boston's William Gordon, "declare they have never before saw an instance of such fury."
These tactics, if indeed that is the right word for the actions of a riotous assembly, were not American inventions, but were long established features of class warfare in Britain. Rioting was then, as now, a paramount threat to property as well as to law and order. Bonfires and burnings in effigy might ignite a mob, but pulling down houses demands far more energy than arson. To loot and gut a substantial dwelling is one thing; to tear the slate from its roof and batter down its exterior walls something more altogether. It is hard to imagine today's tea party movement taking such a page from the playbook of the tax refusing mob that dumped the tea in Boston Harbor.
The mobs that attacked Hutchinson's house and many others were spearheaded by gang leaders in league with political agitators. The Stamp Act was the their motivation for resistance, but the passions of a mob are never so calculated nor so rational. Look to the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 following the Rodney King beating verdict for a modern example. Small wonder that the early national period in America saw a strong crackdown against popular resistance movements such as the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania, or that Shays Rebellion was very much in the minds of delegates to the Constitutional Convention.