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57 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674443020
ISBN-10: 0674443020
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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.


With this reading of the American Revolutionary Experience, Mr. Bailyn has substantially and profoundly altered the nature and direction of the inquiry on the American Revolution. In the process he has also erected a new framework for interpreting the entire first half-century of American national history...A landmark in American historiography. (American Quarterly)

Tightly written and politically sophisticated...In the field of American Revolutionary Studies Bailyn's book must henceforth occupy a position of first rank. (Saturday Review)

The most brilliant study of the meaning of the Revolution to appear in a generation. (History)

One cannot claim to understand the Revolution without having read this book. (New York Times Book Review)

A distinguished achievement. Mr. Bailyn writes with the authority and integrity that derive from a thorough mastery of the material. His meticulous scholarship is matched with perceptive analysis. (New York Review of Books)

In every area of Bernard Bailyn's research--whether Virginia society of the 17th century or the schools of early America--he transformed what historians had hitherto thought about the subject. In The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, the most famous of his works, Bailyn uncovered a set of ideas among the Revolutionary generation that most historians had scarcely known existed. These radical ideas about power and liberty, and deeply rooted fears of conspiracy, had propelled Americans in the 1760s and 1770s into the Revolution, Bailyn said. His book, which won the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes in 1968, influenced an entire generation of historians. For many, it remains the most persuasive interpretation of the Revolution. (Gordon S. Wood Wall Street Journal 2009-02-28)

Product Details

  • File Size: 719 KB
  • Print Length: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Enlarged edition (November 1, 2012)
  • Publication Date: November 1, 2012
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
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183 of 186 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
When published in the 1960s, this book had a revolutionary effect on our understanding of the American Revolution. Its impact is undiminished by the passage of the last 40 years. Bailyn's scholarship and exposition remains as exciting as it must have been at the time of initial publication. Bailyn attempted to take a fresh look at the thinking of the individuals who made the Revolution. His work was based on an extensive survey and analysis of the large number of political pamphlets published in the years leading up to the revolution. His work benefited as well greatly from a number of other significant works of scholarship, such as Caroline Robbins' book on the Commonwealth tradition in 18th century thought. More than anything else, Bailyn succeeded in determining what key terms like 'power', 'liberty', and republicanism meant to the Revolutionary generations. In doing so, he was able to strip away anachronistic accretions from these terms and ideas and recover the actual thinking of the Revolutionaries and their opponents.
Bailyn's achievement is manifold. He was able to show that dominant intellectual influence on the Revolutionaries was a compound of classical models, Common Law legal tradition, Enlightenment ideology, covenant theology, and a strong tradition of British intellectual and political dissent that had its roots in the Commonwealth period of the 17th century. The latter tradition was especially important and acted as the binding matrix for other traditions and interpretative lens through which other received ideas were focused. Bailyn shows how these ideas were articulated in the specifically American context and how they led inevitably to confrontation with the expanding imperial authority of Britain.
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100 of 103 people found the following review helpful By T. Bouthillet on June 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is the critically acclaimed book by Bernard Bailyn that stands in contradistinction to Charles Baird's Economic Interpretation. With unusual courage, Bailyn attempts to understand the founders as they understood themselves. In the preface, Bailyn recalls the "intense excitement" and "sense of discovery" he felt at Harvard Universtiy when he studied the ideological themes of revolutionary America. This excitement and sense of discovery is passed along to the reader.
This is a very scholarly work. The extensive footnotes are fabulous. I especially enjoyed the chapter called "Power and Liberty". Bailyn develops the pre-revolutionary idea that the ultimate explanation of every political controversy is the disposition of power. Power is defined as "dominion" or the human control of human life. With dozens of fascinating examples, Bailyn illustrates why power is essential to the maintenance of liberty, but dangerous and in need of restraint lest it extend itself beyond legitimate boundaries.
I found it refreshing to read a book about America's founding that didn't condescend or politicize. It wasn't until I read this book that I fully appreciated how impoverished my public school education was on the topic. You wont be disappointed.
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70 of 73 people found the following review helpful By eunomius on December 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
This work is a classic. Bailyn brilliantly traces the ideological background of the revolutionaries. He shows how they were steeped in the radical libertarian and republican opposition literature of 17th and 18th century England. He overturms traditional interpretations that stress Locke as the primary influence by demonstrating the vital importance of such men as Algernon Sidney, John Milton, John Trenchard & Thomas Gordon, Lord Bolingbroke, and a host of others. Despite this, Bailyn does not deny the centrality of Locken natural rights philosophy, as many more recent scholars have. He sees the basic philosophy behind the revolution as one which views power as the eternal enemy of liberty. Power must be watched and restrained tightly, otherwise it will exceed its bounds and bring about the end of liberty and the initiation of slavery. He also delves into various issues relating to this philosophy that surrounded the break from Great Britain as well, including the unsettling consequences of their revolutionary agenda(e.g. new views of slavery). In the revised edition of the work, Bailyn extends his analysis to the new U.S. Constitution. Contrary to many other scholars, Bailyn maintains that the new Constitution did not represent a repudiation of the Revolution, but rather, its fulfillment. I myself am still a bit skeptical concerning this point, but his scholarship is sound, and his reasoning is suggestive and challenging. Above all, I would have to say that this work is an absolute *must* for any individual who is interested in early-American history or political philosophy. Moreover, it is also very instructive for liberty loving Americans, as it reveals the nature of the truly radical libertarian foundations of our nation.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Jack Lechelt on March 14, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was an incredibly interesting book. Realizing that Bailyn is quite an accomplished historian-scholar, I put off reading this - I assumed it would be brilliant but very difficult to get through. Well, I was correct about the brilliant part - but wrong about the "difficult to get through" part. It was increadibly readable. Also, the main points of the book are important to understanding American political thought. Interestingly, the country's revolutionary thinking originated from the very country we were fighting againt - ENGLAND! In arguing the continuous debates over the tension between liberty and power, the pamphlet writers of the day turned to 17th and 18th century thinkers to make their case. The best parts of the book are the last two chapters. In the second to last, originally the last chapter until the enlarged edition came out, Bailyn discusses concepts like democracy, representation, and slavery. In the final chapter, "Fulfillment," apparently written much later, Bailyn focuses on the Constitutional Convention and the arguments between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists; particularly, what they felt about virtue residing among the country's people and how best to form a government. One final note: Bailyn's sources from other scholarly journals will lead the read to many interesting gems - especially a few of the articles from William and Mary Quarterly (a must-have journal for anyone interested in the time-period).
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