Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn~★★★★★

Author: Bernard Bailyn
Title: The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution
Release Date: Originally released in 1967; this edition released in 1992
Publisher: This edition published by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; Enlarged Edition
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Cover: "To the original text of what has become a classic of American historical literature, Bernard Bailyn adds a substantial essay, 'Fulfillment," as a Postscript. Here he discusses the intense, nation-wide debate on the ratification of the Constitution, stressing the continuities between the struggle over the foundations of the national government and the original principles of the Revolution. This detailed study of the persistence of the nation's ideological origins adds a new dimension to the book and projects its meaning forward into vital current concerns." 

Taryn's Review: This book came out in 1967 and completely altered the way historians studied the American Revolution. Bailyn used pamphlets from the period to engage his research and what he found was that previous interpretations of the period didn't match his findings. Bailyn examined the pamphlets thoroughly and discovered that words like "liberty," "power," and "constitution" had a very different meaning for those living the 1760s and 1770s than they do today. Even in the years before and during the Revolution, the radical changes in the definitions of the words was evident in the pamphlets.

Bailyn concisely pointed out that the Anglo-Americans living in America were not looking to create a brand-new form of government. In fact, many felt that England had become corrupt and no longer respected the political and constitutional system that had governed England for ages and was considered by Britons to be the best in the world. On page 19 Bailyn wrote, "For the primary goal of the American Revolution, which transformed American life and introduced a new era in human history, was not the overthrow of even the alteration of the existing social order but the preservation of political liberty threatened by the apparent corruption of the constitution, and the establishment in principle of the existing conditions of liberty. The communication of understanding, therefore, lay at the heart of the Revolutionary movement, and its great expressions, embodied in the best of the pamphlets, are consequently expository and explanatory...."

This is the kind of book I wish those people who go around spouting out bad information about the Revolution would read. The book explained the fear Americans had of standing armies, especially after witnessing the fall of Denmark through standing armies' involvement. Fear of an ecclesiastical conspiracy also motivated the Americans to demanded a purer government that truly embodied their understanding of liberty and power. Bailyn did a fantastic job explaining the mixed government in England comprised of estates to balance each other, which included the royalty, the nobility, and the commons, and how this was later translated by the Americans when they created their own federal government. Bailyn also discussed how the truths of liberty became focal points when discussing slavery, established religion, and other areas of social life.

To be honest, this is a difficult book to read for the non-historians. But, if you take time and dedicate ample study to what Bailyn has said, you'll have a better, more enriched understanding of the American Revolution. This book was and still is a pioneering work for historians to appreciate and changed the way historians create a frame of reference for their audience. And a fun bonus, Bailyn included a 1774 town decree from Connecticut that used the word "pimps" to describe those who sought to steal liberties from the people!

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