The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution

The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution - Bernard Bailyn The road to the writing of this Pulitzer Prize winning book began when Bailyn was asked to prepare a collection of pamphlets of the American Revolutionary War era. In doing so he began to see connections, common sources, and particularly how the American colonial experience transformed a strand of British libertarian opposition thought into a uniquely American ideology that caused an intellectual revolution as to the basis for sovereignty, rights and representation and consent that led not only to the colonies declaring independence but shaped our constitution and led to the undermining of slavery, the disestablishment of religion and an entirely new and radical social relationship. I have my doubts that a general readership would find this book interesting: although I sure did. But for someone who has enough interest in American political thought this is illuminating. I have to concur with the New York Times reviewer who said that one "cannot claim to understand the American Revolution without reading this book." Or at least, it would be much harder: you'd have to undertake the same study Bailyn did and read thousands of 18th century pamphlets--which would be formidable enough. The book is logically organized and lucidly written and I found that even for someone like myself who thought I knew a lot about the founding, who has read Thomas Paine's Common Sense and Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence and Hamilton, Madison and Jay's Federalist Papers there are some surprises. I took for granted the influence of Enlightenment thinkers such as Locke, it's not really surprising to learn that a tradition of covenant theology was one strand of thinking nor classical Latin works of or about the Roman republic such as by Cicero, Livy and Tacitus. It was a bit surprising to learn the British common law tradition had a large part in this political thinking--but particularly surprising was learning the role of relatively obscure opposition Whig writers. And Bailyn also examines how the practical experience of colonial government, from charters to town halls to provincial legislatures shaped the way the founders saw and used this legacy to create a new kind of government. If you want to go deeper into the foundation of American political thought, I'd say this book is invaluable.