The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn

Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992).

The leaders of the American Revolution, writes the distinguished historian Bernard Bailyn, were radicals. But their concern was not to correct inequalities of class or income, not to remake the social order, but to “purify a corrupt constitution and fight off the apparent growth of prerogative power.” They wished, in other words, to mend a broken system and improve upon it. In doing so they drew on many traditions of political and social thought, ranging from English conservative philosophers to exponents of the continental Enlightenment, from backward-looking interpretations of ancient Roman civilization to forward-looking views of a new American people. Bailyn carefully examines these sources of sometimes conflicting ideas and considers how the framers of the Constitution resolved them in their inventive doctrine of federalism.