Through all these years I always think of the American Revolution as customary rebellion which the parties involved fight for something like a parcel of land or for political divisions, i. e. territorial expansion. They deliberately fight against each other head-to-head just to get what they wanted. Maybe it is the result of watching classical movies that defy true essence of revolution that I came to think this way about the ancient wars. However, reading the book entitled The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution written by Bernard Bailyn, renewed my traditional view of the revolution as a whole.
It was astoundingly compact yet the message the author conveyed was crystal clear. Bailyn vividly presented his idea that “power must be watched and restrained tightly” else, liberty will no longer take hold of the situation and much worse, slavery and other forms of oppression will occur. I learned to view the American Revolution from a different perspective in what he called the “ideological origins”. In effect, I was able to draw critical analysis based from Bailyn’s work of other cases of rebellion here and abroad.
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The purpose of the author in writing the book, as I comprehended it, is basically to tell everyone that wars happened because of radical minds that drew political ideology from social and traditional outlooks and screened by past experiences. They are explicitly called as radical libertarians who focused on the effort of freeing the individual from tyranny of the state. Bailyn traced their ideological background and found one important piece of the puzzle that he presented in the first part of the book: the pamphlet story.
He told us that those pamphlets “had peculiar virtues as a medium of communication” among the proponents who drafted of the American Revolution. It was in this method (and many others following it) that radical minds gained power and support from the commoners and so the revolution was given birth. But of course, the main event still laid in the messages that the radicals were sending out. The American Revolution was indeed initiated and maintained by radical libertarians until it reached its final destination.
The author showed in the book that the American Revolution was “a cluster of convictions focused on the effort to free the individual from the oppressive misuse of power” by the state. He did not just a compile these convictions but also the analyzed each of them point-by-point as those were his premises in the logical structure of the book. It was the product of years of constant search of relevant information that pertains to the American Revolution. The book was overwhelming with researched ideas which the author found useful.
The book was organized into six parts beginning from the Literature of Revolution down to the Contagion of Liberty. In the Literature of Revolution, he explained the method of communication between the radicals who instigated to the public the idea of revolution. Part II of the book talked about the Sources and Traditions which he identified the ideological background of the radical libertarians. In Part III, entitled Power and Liberty: A Theory of Politics, Bailyn discussed the issues concerning power and liberty, i.
e. how should the state treat the underprivileged, the oppressed, the people who were exploited by tyrants. He showed the premises in Part IV the Logic of Rebellion—the only option that the libertarians can have. Here he talked about conspiracies and how the rebellion happened during the Great American Revolution. In Part V, Bailyn discussed the history on the Transformations resulting from the revolution. The areas he tackled were the issues on Representation and Consent, Constitution and Rights, and the Sovereignty.
These transformations were the fruits of the radical libertarians’ efforts. The last but not the least, Bailyn discussed in Part VI entitled The Contagion of Liberty the privileges that the underprivileged were able to uphold after the revolution. The discussion talked about the long-term issues of slavery, religion, respect, that all in all summed into the new concept, the concept of democracy that gave every person the right to exercise his freedom in the country. However, Bailyn did not end the book here.
He also included an essay entitled “Fulfillment: A Commentary on the Constitution” which described the existing constitution as the ‘fulfillment’ of the libertarians’ dreams. Bernard Bailyn is widely and deservedly identified as “our finest historian of the colonial period”. He was an Emeritus Professor at Adams University and professor of Early American History at Harvard University. He wrote many award-winning books including The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution which garnered him both the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes.
This book first published in the 1960’s was a breakthrough for the whole mankind. He wrote the book in such a way that radical ideologies were seen as the main reason for the American Revolution to ensue. The book also proved to be applicable not just in the American societal and political transformations but also to majority of revolutions lead by radical leaders of such revolution. After all, there was no trouble understanding his ideas despite the fact that it was written from literally hundreds of sources compressed into a 416-page book.
In conclusion, the Bailyn’s The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution was the possibly the best book ever written that pertains to the subject of ideological origins or backgrounds of radical libertarians who aimed to “free the individual from oppressive misuse of power” by the state. Also, he did not end his discussion to the accounts of the first half of the century but rather commented on the existing laws that he called “Fulfillment” of the hopes and dreams of the leaders of the American Revolution. Reference: Bailyn, Bernard (1992). The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.
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