Ideological Origins of the American Revolution

As the back cover of Bernard Bailyn’s book, Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, suggests, the book discusses the foundations and original principles of the American Revolution. It is indisputable significance in the literature of the area of American Revolution and American History can easily be seen from the awards the book received. Ideological Origins of the American Revolution is both the winner of the Pulitzer Prize of History and the Bancroft Prize in 1968. The author of the book Bernard Bailyn is a stimulating and important historian of our times.

He is an Emeritus Professor of Early American History at Harvard University and the Director of the International Seminar on the History of the Atlantic World. He is the author of many scholarly articles and books among which are Voyagers to the West (1986) for which he win also the Pulitzer Prize, The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson, which was awarded the National Book Award in History in 1975,The Origins of American Politics, The Peopling of British North America and many others.

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However, his most significant work was Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. He also received many other prizes and medals for his academic works and contributions to history.

The enlarged edition of the book published for the twenty-fifth anniversary of its first publication in 1967 consists of six chapters and a postscript following a preface to the enlarged edition and the foreword. The first chapter called The Literature of Revolution, analyses the different styles, techniques and contents of pamphlets written in the eighteenth century before the Revolution in America by giving examples of them.

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They are compared in terms of the aspects indicated above with those written in Britain during the same period. He also analyses the intellectual background of the authors of those pamphlets. The second chapter, Sources and Traditions analyses the intellectual background of the writing of the period before the Revolution, that is, Bailyn analyses the ideologies, happenings, sources, traditions, and intellectuals by whom the pamphleteers were influenced and inspired by referring to a wide variety of pamphlets writing during this period. The third chapter, Power and Liberty: A Theory of Politics, analyses the political literature of the pre-Revolutionary period in terms of power, constitution, liberty, bribery and corruption by referring to pamphlets and interpreting them.

The next chapter, The Logic of Rebellion analyses how the fear of conspiracy against constituted authority was seen widely in the political structure and how conspiracy formed the main driving force of the propaganda of writings of the American Revolution. Bailyn examines the deep and widespread roots of conspiracy in the political environment by analyzing the events during the pre-Revolutionary period and showing its evidence in pamphlets. The chapter concludes with a section of A Note on Conspiracy appended to it. The fifth chapter, Transformation, looks at the transformation of the inherited or adapted political and social thoughts to a new -sometimes strange- and illuminating phase during the last decade before the American Revolution. These transformations and the driving force of the American Revolution are analyzed under the concepts of representation, constitution and rights, and sovereignty.

The sixth chapter, The Contagion of Liberty, focuses on the issue that the transformation of social and political thought resulted not only in a political sense to the American Revolution but also to other issues not in direct connection such as slavery, religion and human rights. The issue is analyzed by Bailyn in four different sections: Slavery, Establishment of Religion, The Democracy Unleashed, and “Whether Some Degree of Respect Be Not Always Due from Inferiors to Superiors”. Following this chapter, the book concludes with a Postscript called Fulfillment: A Commentary on the Constitution, which was added for the enlarged edition of the book. The postscript deals with the intellectual and political debate after the establishment of the American Constitution. As in the other chapters the topic is analyzed by referring and interpreting to the pamphlets, letters and writings of that period of individuals such as Hamilton, Madison, Wilson, Mason, Martin and many others.

The importance and strength of this book comes from the fact that it does not simply explain how the American Revolution happened and what happened but it analyzes why the Revolution took place. Bailyn examines several of pamphlets written prior to the Revolution. He argues that the main concern of these pamphlets was not an economic or social change but they intended to explain their motive and assumption of a constitution in a debate of the political environment. One important point that is underlined by Bailyn is to show what influenced intellectually the so-called Revolutionary writers in America. He argues that being influenced strongly by the opposition literature in Britain, classical models, the Common Law, the Enlightenment ideology and covenant theology were also underlying intellectual motives such that American pamphleteers formed their ideology by making a synthesis from them. He shows how these political thoughts led to a confrontation with the imperial authority of England, which inevitably led to the Revolution, which was strengthened by the fear of the Revolutionaries of various conspiracies. Moreover, Bailyn shoes how ideologically the confrontation led eventually to new ideas in terms of slavery, sovereignty and the constitutional basis of the society.

In conclusion, the book Ideological Origins of the American Revolution written by Bernard Bailyn, an important scholar of his area should be considered as a milestone in terms of the literature in Early American History. The book refers to variety of writings of intellectuals belonging to the Revolutionaries and their opponents; it makes excerpts from them to support his ideas and build up a synthesis. Besides, it allows the reader to get a deep knowledge about their ideology from those texts. The book allows the reader to look at the topic from a different perspective and allows him to gain a great amount of knowledge. Although the book is detailed and a precious scholar work, it is not only valuable for researchers and students delving in that period of history but also for those readers who want just get an overview or who are getting acquainted for the first time with the subject.

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 Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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