Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IX: The Whig Historical Tradition and the Origins of the American Revolution - The Lamp of Experience
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
CHAPTER IX: The Whig Historical Tradition and the Origins of the American Revolution - Trevor Colbourn, The Lamp of Experience 
The Lamp of Experience: Whig History and the Intellectual Origins of the American Revolution (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1998).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The Whig Historical Tradition and the Origins of the American Revolution
In seventeenth-century England men found history peculiarly instructive and useful. By the eighteenth century, history had become the practical study for gentlemen on both sides of the Atlantic. Americans praised history as “the least fallible guide,” and their “oracle of truth.”1 The British colonies may have been predominantly agricultural but they produced a society with remarkably bookish (if not literary) tastes. Shelf after shelf of historical studies in college libraries, booksellers’ shops, library societies, lawyers’ offices, and personal libraries attest to the measure of the colonists’ historical interest and opportunity. Their study of history was a vital part of their intellectual environment. With history the Revolutionary generation of Americans sought to extend its political experience; with assistance from the past, Americans determined their future.
The colonial focus was on the history of the mother country. “The history of Great Britain,” remarked John Jay in The Federalist, “is the one with which we are in general the best acquainted.”2 To know English history was to know America’s origins. And to know English history in the mid-eighteenth century was to know history as it was written and sometimes made by Englishmen of the “True Whig” persuasion, so designated by Robert Molesworth. These were the writers, so aptly called “Commonwealthmen” by Caroline Robbins, who justified political action against the Stuarts in the seventeenth century by appeals to the antiquity of the privileges sought. These were the writers who offered a historical justification of the Glorious Revolution, reveled briefly in its accomplishment, and then found to their horror that after 1688 neither England’s government nor its society remained true to its professed purposes. They became fearful for the future of their country as they saw the love of luxury increase and attachment to virtue diminish. The power and ambition of the Crown was not yet curbed; Parliament threatened a new despotism as dire as that of the Stuarts—indeed, threatened a despotism made worse by an alliance with the Crown at the expense of the people.
What these radical whig historians and critics said about their government and society made sense to many Americans. Well read on the golden age of their Saxon ancestors, colonial patriots thoughtfully noted the contrast presented in the whig portrayal of modern England. There seemed to be a conspiracy to defraud Englishmen of their constitutional rights overseas as well as at home. John Adams was quite specific: “the conspiracy … against the Public Liberty,” he declared in 1774, “was first regularly formed, and begun to be executed, in 1763 or 4.”3 The American interpretation of English history colored colonial explanations of events and furnished Americans with an arsenal of arguments that eventually transformed a rebellion into a revolution.
Independence—which required revolution—was not initially intended by the colonial leaders. As Clinton Rossiter observed when studying their political theory, “however radical the principles of the Revolution may have seemed to the rest of the world, in the minds of the colonists they were thoroughly preservative and respectful of the past.”4 Their respect for the past brought them to their rebellious and finally revolutionary posture. The last stage of their journey was the most difficult and also the most carefully related to history: on the eve of independence colonists were consulting such whig oracles as Hulme’s Historical Essay on the English Constitution (it was “invaluable”), noting anew how the Saxons secured “the free election of their magistrates and governors; without which our ancestors thought all our liberties were but a species of bondage.” Comparisons were irresistible: “How different from, and how much superior to, our present form of government, was the Saxon, or old constitution of England!”5 The language of history was commonplace: “Provoke us not too far!!” warned a Rhode Islander; “Runymede is still to be found, as we may there assert our rights.”6 Mounting doubt about England’s interest in this common legacy of liberty played its part in the colonial decision. “Cassandra,” writing in March 1776, cited Hulme and Burgh as he contended that “the British constitution is so effectually undermined by the influence of the crown, that the people of Britain have no security for the enjoyment of their own liberties.” He concluded that “Americans can never be safe in being dependent on such a state [as Britain].” Englishmen in the mother country had “lost the distinguishing character between freemen and slaves.”7 A New Englander employed more colorful phrasing: England was no longer “in a Condition at present to Suckle us, being pregnant with Vermin that corrupt her Milk, and convert her Blood and Juices into Poison.”8
Revolution became both a preventative and a preservative course of action. Americans wanted to prevent the spread of “the poison of corruption” to their own shores.9 (“May placemen and pensioners never find seats in American senates” was one toast drunk in June 1776.10 ) Americans wanted to preserve their inherited rights and liberties. And above all they wanted to maintain their virtue. For whig historians and colonial readers Clio was a highly moral muse. Virtue was considered as important to the body politic as virginity to a young maiden. Americans were repeatedly told that they represented a last outpost of English freedom, that they were the last sentinels of English virtue. They labored thus under “a double obligation”—to preserve their own virtue and in so doing “rouse the dormant spirit of liberty in England, give a check to luxury and a spring to virtue.”11 Joseph Warren in his 1775 “Massacre” oration expressed a widespread hope “that Britain’s liberty, as well as ours, will eventually be preserved by the virtue of America.”12
Sincerely imbued as they were with a sense of imperial public service as well as historical obligation, many Americans were much encouraged by the historical commentaries crossing the Atlantic: John Dickinson’s exchange with Edward Dilly, Richard Henry Lee’s correspondence with Catherine Macaulay, the Boston Sons of Liberty letters to John Wilkes—all brought comfort, information, and an enhanced awareness of common history and common purpose.13 “Thank God,” ran a letter of Wilkes carried by the Maryland Gazette, “our Ancestors were Heroes and Patriots, not prudent Men. Russell and Sydney were considered by the Townshends of their Age as imprudent Men. They risked all for liberty.”14 When Wilkes campaigned in 1774, Americans read of his ambition for electoral reform, the “restoration” of Saxon annual parliaments, and a reversal of the ministerial policies toward the colonies.15 (He likened critics of the American cause to Charles I’s infamous attack on Parliament in 1628.16 ) Several years before the Declaration of Independence Wilkes was reported asking publicly whether “in a few years the independent Americans may not celebrate the glorious era of the revolution of 1775, as we do that of 1688?”17
And yet the final decision was distinctively American. Real Whigs in England might sympathize with the colonists, but there were few who looked for American independence. The whig purpose was limited to offering colonial virtue as a mirror for the mother country. The repetitive historical reviews of corruption, the unrepresentative character of the House of Commons, and the unholy conspiracy of Crown and Parliament against the ancient English constitution were intended to educate and enlighten, to create the climate for redress and reform at home. Neither a Hulme nor a Blackstone countenanced colonial claims to self-government under the cloak of English constitutional rights; they might deplore some consequences of the Glorious Revolution, but as Charles H. McIlwain has observed, for them prerogative was such of the ancient discretionary rights of the Crown as Parliament chose to leave untouched.18 Whigs questioned the wisdom but rarely doubted the authority of Parliament. They might offer a justification for certain colonial claims to redress of grievances but they preferred not to counsel revolution at home or in America.
The colonists were selective in their use of whig history. They seized and made their own, specific concepts and ideas only. They took seventeenth-century historical arguments against the Stuarts and directed these arguments against the eighteenth-century Parliament. They wrenched whig history from its monarchical framework and gave emphasis to the revolutionary acts of the Puritan Revolution of the 1640s—something English historians rarely cared to do. The American achievement was one of adaptation and translation. They used whig history, they used whig arguments, but their borrowing fed ideas and led to decisions appropriate only to the colonial circumstances. Had the Founding Fathers remained totally true to the English whig historical tradition they would never have produced a revolution—and their counterparts in England did not.
In the process of seeking to educate Grenville, Townshend, and North, Americans educated themselves. Persuaded of the historical reality of their constitutional claims, convinced that political depravity had indeed “swallowed up all the virtue of the island of Great-Britain,”19 Americans moved beyond protest, beyond mere resistance, to revolution. And yet the Declaration of Independence pretended to nothing new. It offered only “the common sense of the subject,” its authority resting “on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or the elementary books of public right.” It presented the record of “absolute tyranny” as a brief for the contention that British governmental purpose was intrinsically at fault, precluding any likelihood of reform.20 The constitution so admired and respected by Americans no longer existed in Britain; the natural rights of mankind, once secure under British law, now lacked protection.21 In these circumstances the purpose of government itself demanded restatement.
It was this identification of English rights with natural rights that made relatively easy the transition from history to political theory. Hitherto colonists had hesitated to trust themselves to philosophical abstractions, notwithstanding their acceptance of Locke’s libertarian principles. Many had felt, as James Duane expressed it in 1774, that “the Law of Nature … will be a feeble support.” He felt more secure grounding his rights on the laws and constitution of the mother country, “without recurring to the Law of Nature.”22 But by the summer of 1776 there seemed no choice but to appeal to the natural rights which the British constitution had once embodied but no longer supported. Americans knew that historically sovereignty lay with the people rather than with any law-making power; the time had come for the people to exercise that sovereignty; the time had come to address the future rather than the past.
The Revolution came with Americans abandoning the conservative, evolutionary progress normally advocated by their whig friends. But the whig interpretation of history had served significantly. It had shown, as one Pennsylvanian noted, that “whether you be English, Irish, Germans, or Swedes, whether you be churchmen presbyterians, quakers, or of any other denomination of religion, whatsoever, you are by your residence, and the laws of your country, freemen and not slaves.” It had shown Americans that they were “entitled to all the liberties of Englishmen and the freedom of this constitution.”23 It allowed Americans to approach the issue of independence gradually, almost obliquely. In insisting upon rights which their history showed were deeply embedded in antiquity, American Revolutionaries argued that their stand was essentially conservative; it was the corrupted mother country which was pursuing a radical course of action, pressing innovations and encroachments upon her long-suffering colonies. Independence was in large measure the product of the historical concepts of the men who made it, men who furnished intellectual as well as political leadership to a new nation.
The first publication of the Declaration of Independence in book form took place early in July 1776. It was an integral part of a little volume prepared by one “Demophilus” entitled The Genuine Principles of the Ancient Saxon, or English Constitution.24 It was, claimed the author, “carefully collected from the best AUTHORITIES; with some OBSERVATIONS, on their peculiar fitness, for the UNITED COLONIES in general, and PENNSYLVANIA in particular.” The title page also carried two quotations. The first was from Sidney: “All human Constitutions are subject to Corruption, and must perish, unless they are ‘timely renewed’ by reducing them to their first Principles.”25 The second, even more familiar, came from Hulme’s Historical Essay: “Where ANNUAL ELECTION ends, TYRANNY begins.”26 Almost three-quarters of the book comprised excerpts from Hulme. Americans were reminded how their Saxon ancestors “founded their government on the common rights of mankind. They made the elective power of the people the first principle of the constitution.”27 The point could hardly be missed: “the old Saxon form of government, will be the best model, that human wisdom, improved by experience, has left … to copy.”28
Whig history survived. But with a few notable exceptions, it failed to excite American interest and allegiance. Once independence was declared and institutionalized, the whig view of English history became less prominent in the American mind. When the colonists’ quarrel with England began, they already had much of what English whig writers had long sought for themselves. A major objective of the American Revolution was the maintenance of liberties already enjoyed.
After independence new tasks created new needs, new interests. When Americans contemplated a new federal union in 1787 they found other aspects of their historical education of value. They gave renewed attention to their classical literature. Polybius now came into his own as an authority on the Greek city-states, and American constitution-makers pored over his pages, studying again the causes of the dissolution of ancient republics.29 They reviewed European history, mainly for examples of modern confederations, such as the Dutch. Sir William Temple’s Observations upon the United Provinces of the Netherlands enjoyed a new vogue (none of the delegates in Philadelphia read Dutch), and Franklin, Wilson, Madison, and Benjamin Rush were among those looking to the Dutch experience for constitutional wisdom, arguing that the Dutch confederacy, like the American government under the Articles of Confederation, was both ineffective and unjust.30 Yet English history was hardly neglected—the English constitution still excited admiration—and there persisted the confident feeling that Americans could profit from the English experience “without paying the price which it cost them.”31 “Happy that country which can avail itself of the misfortunes of others,” commented John Marshall.32 In a distinctive way the new federal union was as much a product of history as the Revolution itself;33 but the Constitution of 1787 reflected different needs and problems and was accordingly the subject of a broader historical canvas.
History is made in the minds of men, and in the eighteenth century there were men whose minds were filled with history. The history made by the American Revolutionaries was in part the product of the history they read, in part the product of their translation of a whiggish Clio into “an expression of the American mind”34 of universal significance. The historical principles of whiggery relating to the right of resistance, royal prerogative, and civil liberty were basic ingredients in the colonial constitutional theory of the pre-Revolutionary period. Americans read history in a highly selective manner, shrewdly sorting out and altering to American requirements whiggish views in support of their doctrines on their rights as Englishmen. They were, as Franklin put it, “Whigs in a Reign when Whiggism is out of Fashion.”35
The Saxon Myth Dies Hard
For all its inaccuracies, the interpretation of English history presented by the Real Whigs proved remarkably durable. In the mid-nineteenth century Americans were praising Algernon Sidney as “one of the noblest martyrs of that liberty which the progress of civilization and the developments of time seem to point out as the heritage of the Anglo-Saxon race.”1 And another scholar carefully identified the Goths as “the noblest branch of the Caucasian race.” “We are,” he added, “their children.”2
The crux of the whig view was the concept of Germanic superiority and the peculiarly felicitous capacity of the Anglo-Saxon for democratic ways; these ideas remained popular throughout the nineteenth century. At the Johns Hopkins University, America’s first great center of graduate study, Herbert Baxter Adams put forward his germ theory of American history. Keenly alive to “the possibility of tracing the great stream of American democracy to its earlier English source,” Professor Adams asserted that it was from the primitive Teutonic constitution that American democracy derived.3 Woodrow Wilson, one of Adams’s many notable students, commented that the only examples he knew of successful democracy were in governments “begotten of English race,” and where “the old Teutonic habit has had the same persistency as in England.”4
In Berlin, American historian John Burgess, who received his training under the great Rudolf Gneist, learned of “the great struggle for liberty conducted by the English subsequent to the Norman Conquest.” Burgess in turn preached Saxon democracy and its moral for Americans.5 John Fiske’s social Darwinism was in the same vein as the Teutonism of Burgess,6 and evolutionary thought led to a racist adaptation of the whig concept of the noble Saxon. Imperialists reached back into their past, Josiah Strong proclaiming that “the Anglo-Saxon holds in his hands the destinies of mankind.” Strong believed Anglo-Saxons “a race of unequaled energy,” and representative of “the largest liberty, the purest Christianity, the highest civilizations.” In the Darwinian struggle for existence, Strong found the fitter Saxons had survived owing to “their traditions of civil liberty.”7
In England, the radical Charles Dilke surveyed his world and forecast that the Anglo-Saxon race was the only one which could maintain its freedom.8 Well-intentioned politicians like Dilke’s friend Joseph Chamberlain spoke proudly of “the greatness and importance of the destiny which is reserved for the Anglo-Saxons”;9 he sought to cultivate a union of the Saxon Powers—America, Britain, and Germany. America’s Mr. Dooley was sceptical: “You an’ me, Hinnisey, has got to bring on this here Anglo-Saxon ’lieance.” To Mr. Hennessy’s enquiry, Mr. Dooley explained that “an Anglo-Saxon is a German that’s forgot who was his parents.”10 But in Europe, von Treitschke was both certain and proud of his ancestry and wrote at length of the glories he and his nation derived therefrom. Houston Stewart Chamberlain was sufficiently carried away to propose that Jesus Christ must have been of the Germanic race.11
No one factor can explain completely these racial perversions, but apart from the powerful influence of Darwinian thought, some responsibility rests with those major nineteenth-century historians who lent their names to enough of the Saxon myth to dignify its degeneration into racial and nationalistic causes. “The strong man and the strong nation,” explained William Stubbs, “feel the pulsation of the past in the life of the present.”
According to Bishop Stubbs, “it is to Ancient Germany that we must look for the earliest traces of our forefathers, for the best part of almost all of us originally were German.”12 Stubbs subscribed to the Tacitus interpretation of a noble and democratic Germanic race who transferred their liberal customs to England. Professor Petit-Dutaillis has explained Stubbs’s attitude in terms that make the Bishop seem very nationalistic indeed: “He belonged to the liberal generation which had seen and assisted in the attainment of electoral reforms in England. … He had formed himself in his youth under the discipline of the patriotic German scholars who saw in the primitive German institutions the source of all human independence. He thought he saw in the development of the English Constitution the magnificent and unique expansion of those germs of self-government, and England was for him the messenger of liberty to the world.”13
Historians like Edward Freeman, John Green, John Kemble, and even Henry Adams joined Bishop Stubbs in his conviction that the Anglo-Saxons had enjoyed a democratic society. Henry Adams was deeply interested in “the primitive popular assembly, parliament, law-court and army in one; which embraced every free man, rich or poor.” He noted how “among all German races, none have clung with sturdier independence or more tenacious conservatism to their ancient customs and liberties, than the great Saxon confederation.”14 Tacitus remained a largely unquestioned source. A nonfeudal land tenure and the elective German kingship were carried from the Saxon woods to England to bless that island until the arrival of the Normans. Late-nineteenth-century scholars had relatively few doubts on this subject.
Carl Stephenson has commented that to accept the nineteenth-century interpretation of Anglo-Saxon society, a historian had “first to read into comparatively late sources a meaning which they never had and then apply that misinterpretation to an imaginary society of a thousand years earlier.”15 Tacitus has received a closer examination today. Scholars now agree that the Germania depicted a warrior peasant far different from that claimed by the whig historians. Tacitus described the German people as dominated by a class of warriors who saw agriculture as degrading for them personally and lived off the produce of the lower peasants. Tacitus may have found the Germans a happy contrast to contemporary Rome, but Saxon society was certainly not the democratic one envisaged by Jefferson and the whigs. As a society, in fact, the Saxon was less agrarian than military, and the personal tie which bound peasant to lord involved the performance of a customary service nearly as rigid as that brought in by the Normans. On the credit side for the whigs, it must be emphasized that there was no professional class of knights sustained by military benefices in pre-Conquest England.
The true meaning of the term witan eluded the early historians: Sir Frank Stenton claims the Saxon councils were composed, not of all classes, but of the upper ranks of the aristocracy, along with ecclesiastics when the church became established. The best that Stenton has found is “the character of a constitutional monarchy,” which was “extremely narrow in form.”16
Other features of the whig interpretation have also been subjected to reexamination. The idea of the breach in English historical development occasioned by the Norman Conquest was less popular in the nineteenth than in the eighteenth century. Stubbs began the emancipation from this broken-continuity concept of the whigs, and his influence is evident in Stenton, although such notable scholars as J. H. Round and G. B. Adams continued to argue that the Conquest did interrupt English historical development.
In G. B. Adams’s view the English constitution rested wholly upon the feudal foundations laid by the Normans. The Saxons had been approaching a feudalistic state before the Conquest, but “beneath the superficial similarity, there was a great difference.” According to Adams, the Normans possessed a more centralized absolutism and imposed this upon the Saxons; he explained the similar legislative machinery that ensued as due to the Saxon Chronicles’ habit of persistently calling the Norman curia regis by the old name of witenagemot. The real institutional difference, Adams insisted, was very wide, despite this feudalistic similarity. But there was no real compromise with the whig interpretation: “The origin of the English limited monarchy is to be sought not in the primitive German state, nor in the idea of an elective monarchy or a coronation oath, nor in the survival of institutions of local freedom to exert increasing influence on the central government.”17
Today the prevailing tendency is to view the post-1066 Anglo-Norman state as unique, the result of many antecedents, Saxon, Flemish, Danish, and Breton.18 Most of the later features of whig history have been explored and revealed as false oversimplifications which endured because people wanted to believe. The myth of Magna Charta has been attacked by scholars distressed over extravagant claims made on its behalf. The feudal character of the document is now widely recognized. Its limitations may be disputed, but no longer in the political language of the 1680s.19 Most scholars see the Charter as a grant of privileges on the part of King John to the freemen of England and agree that it could not apply to the mass of a people still thoroughly servile.20 As Faith Thompson has commented, the famous Charter which was so important to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century lawyers and historians “meant many things to many groups, varying greatly from age to age in actual content [meaning] and realistic value.”21
Certainly few whig writers underestimated the Charter’s significance as a support for their claims. But, according to Professor Herbert Butterfield, such “wrong history” may well have been of great political advantage to England, if not to her historical erudition. Whig writers, by providing liberty with the steadying alliance of history and tradition, performed a service that the French (for example) sadly lacked. Revolts in England have been relatively quiet and sober affairs. At least a partial explanation is the manner in which the whig historians brought history, with its substantiation of man’s rights, to the aid of political radicalism. Thus neither Englishmen at home or in America underwent the rigors known to France between 1789–93.22 Viewed in this light, it is possibly the world’s misfortune that myths are becoming intellectual curiosities.
History in the Colonial Library
The listings which follow can assist in charting the historiographical environment of the American colonists and the character of their historical resources. Although these lists are samples only, even this partial survey should supply the flavor of the colonists’ interest in history and the nature of their reading. The frequency with which a given title recurs does not prove much in isolation; a book which crops up rarely may yet be of startling significance to a Thomas Jefferson or a Richard Bland. Nevertheless, the lists serve as a rough indication of the colonists’ common exposure when seeking historical knowledge.
In some instances, however, the lists make a point of their own. David Hall’s orders to William Strahan reflect how the market for history books was enlarging. The catalogues of the Library Company of Philadelphia show the persisting interests of the stockholders in history. And Jefferson’s book lists, with their repetition of titles, show his enduring attachment to particular history books.
The lists include some works which might not be catalogued as history today, but which nevertheless had a historical significance for eighteenth-century colonists. There may be special meaning in the frequent priority accorded Sidney’s Discourses over Locke’s Treatises on Civil Government. While these lists accurately reflect the colonial absorption in English history, they also confirm the availability of diversified histories dealing with revolutions and, as Edwin Wolf has put it, “the mutability of kings and states.” The popularity of Abbé Vertot is particularly eloquent testimony to this interest. A comparable reading of the English governing classes at this same period might throw additional light on Anglo-American misunderstandings.
The form of the listings below follows substantially the form employed in the original, and where the identity of a book remains obvious, the original misspellings and minor title variations are retained. For purposes of typographical clarity, there is an effort at consistent italicizing of titles, which was not the case in the originals. Entries marked with an asterisk have not been identified.
The entries are grouped under geographical categories: New England; New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania; and the Southern Colonies.
A. Harvard College
B. Yale College
C. The College of New Jersey
D. Rhode Island College
SOCIAL OR PUBLIC LIBRARIES
A. New England
B. New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania
C. The Southern Colonies
III. PRIVATE LIBRARIES
A. New England
B. New York and Pennsylvania
C. The Southern Colonies
IV. THE BOOK TRADE
A. New England
B. New York and Pennsylvania
C. The Southern Colonies
The typeface used for this book is Bembo, produced by Monotype in 1929. It is based on a roman cut at Venice by Francesco Griffo in 1495. The companion italic is based on a font designed in Venice in the 1520s by Giovanni Tagliente. Bembo is a graceful and versatile face of genuine Renaissance structure.
This book is printed on paper that is acid-free and meets the requirements of the American National Standard for Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, Z39.48-1992.(archival)
Book design by Louise OFarrell, Gainesville, Florida
Typography by Tseng Information Systems, Inc., Durham, North Carolina
Printed and bound by Worzalla Publishing Co., Stevens Point, Wisconsin
[1.]Such comments abound in The Federalist; see Jacob E. Cooke’s annotated edition (Middletown, Conn., 1961), Federalist No. 6 (Hamilton), 32, and Federalist No. 20 (Madison), 128.
[2.]Federalist No. 5 (Jay), 24.
[3.]John Adams, Diary, Mar. 6, 1774, Butterfield, ed., Adams Papers, II, 90.
[4.]Rossiter, Seedtime of the Republic, 448.
[5.]Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), May 2, 1776.
[6.]Newport Mercury, Sept. 7, 1772.
[7.]Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), May 2, 1776. “Cassandra” was James Cannon, mathematics tutor at the College of Philadelphia; his essays first appeared in the Pennsylvania Evening Post (Philadelphia). His chief critic was the Reverend William Smith, Provost of the College, who wrote as “Cato” in the Pennsylvania Ledger (Philadelphia). For a review of this exchange, see Schlesinger, Prelude to Independence, 262–63.
[8.]Connecticut Courant (Hartford), June 5, 1774 (reprinted from the Pennsylvania Packet [Philadelphia]).
[9.]Newport Mercury, July 1, 1776.
[11.]Connecticut Courant (Hartford), Feb. 15, 1774.
[12.]Oration of Dr. Joseph Warren, Mar. 6, 1775, Hezekiah Niles, ed., Principles and Acts of the Revolution … (Baltimore, 1822), 21.
[13.]For evidence of the admiration Wilkes excited in New Englanders, see The Committee of the Sons of Liberty [Benjamin Kent, Thomas Young, Benjamin Church, Jr., John Adams, Joseph Warren] to John Wilkes, June 6, 1768, in Massachusetts Historical Society, Proceedings 47 (1914): 191–92.
[14.]Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), Apr. 26, 1770.
[15.]Ibid., Jan. 23, 1772.
[16.]Ibid., Jan. 18, 1776.
[17.]New-York Gazette; and Weekly Mercury, June 10, 1773.
[18.]McIlwain, The American Revolution: A Constitutional Interpretation, 2. The value of McIlwain’s study remains uncontested, even though his approach awaits scholarly exploitation; however, the constitutional correctness of the colonial case matters less than their belief in that correctness.
[19.]Connecticut Courant (Hartford), June 5, 1774.
[20.]See Becker, The Declaration of Independence, 25–26, 14–15.
[21.]“The glory of the British Government,” announced the Connecticut Gazette (New Haven) as early as Apr. 10, 1756, is that the “natural Rights of Mankind, are secured by the Laws of the Land.” See Rossiter, Seedtime of the Republic, 143. When John Adams reminded readers of the Boston-Gazette, Jan. 27, 1776, that “all men are born equal,” he also told them that “the drift of British constitution is to preserve as much of this equality as is compatible with the people’s security.” The rights of men were God-given, but supported by the British constitution.
[22.]John Adams, “Notes of Debates in the Continental Congress,” Sept. 8, 1774, in Butterfield, ed., Adams Papers, II, 129.
[23.]Pennsylvania Journal (Philadelphia), Sept. 28, 1758, quoted by Rossiter, Seedtime of the Republic, 143.
[24.]“Demophilus,” The Genuine Principles of the Ancient Saxon, or English Constitution (Philadelphia, 1776), published between July 8–15, 1776, by Robert Bell. “Demophilus” has not been identified positively, but he may well have been George Bryan; see also the Pennsylvania Gazette, March 19, 1777, for a further contribution from this Saxon-oriented constitutionalist.
[25.]The quotation from Sidney is taken from his Discourses, 1, 206.
[26.]See title page, Hulme, Historical Essay; as noted in chap. 5, John Adams was fond of this maxim.
[27.]Hulme, Historical Essay, 6–7, cited by “Demophilus,” Genuine Principles, 5.
[28.]“Demophilus,” Genuine Principles, 17.
[29.]For a recent study of the impact of the Greek and Roman ideas on the Founding Fathers, see Richard M. Gummere, The American Colonial Mind and the Classical Tradition; Essays in Comparative Culture (Cambridge, Mass., 1963); for his discussion of Polybius and the Constitution, see 177–78. Probably the most incisive study of intellectual origins of the 1787 Constitution is Douglass Adair, “The Intellectual Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy: Republicanism, the Class Struggle, and the Virtuous Farmer” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1943). But no one has done for the Founding Fathers what Harold T. Parker did for the French Revolutionaries of the 1780s and 1790s—see his The Cult of Antiquity and the French Revolutionaries (Chicago, 1937).
[30.]See William H. Riker, “Dutch and American Federalism,” Journal of the History of Ideas 18 (1957): 499–508.
[31.]John Jay, Federalist No. 5, ed. Cooke, 24.
[32.]John Marshall, June 19, 1788, Jonathan Elliot, ed., Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution … (Philadelphia, 1881), III, 225.
[33.]Naroll, in his Clio and the Constitution, offers an arithmetical approach to the use of history in Philadelphia in 1787. He notes nearly 400 references to historical events, of which about 100 were to British history, mostly post-1688, about 70 to European history, about 70 to ancient history, and the balance to post-1763 American history. He finds Anglo-Saxon political experience furnishing material for 55 per cent of all historical references. Obviously such statistics are of little help without further investigation into the actual use and meaning of the history employed. But there seems no reason to dispute Naroll’s contention that the delegates did not trifle with history: “they seldom used a historical reference as an ornament, a rhetorical flourish or a display of knowledge.” Ibid., 71. Edward McNall Burns in “The Philosophy of the Founding Fathers,” The Historian 16 (1954): 142, argues for a profound influence of “the lessons of antiquity.”
[34.]Jefferson to Richard Henry Lee, May 8, 1825, Washington, ed., Writings of Jefferson, VII, 407.
[35.]Franklin to the Printer of the Publick Ledger (London), n.d., Franklin Papers, L, Pt. I, fol. 8, American Philosophical Society. It might be observed that Benjamin Rush, a personal acquaintance of Mrs. Macaulay and James Burgh, accepted the view in Cato’s Letters that “in England the whigs in power are always tories, and the tories out of power are always whigs.” See Rush to William Gordon, Dec. 10, 1778, Lyman H. Butterfield, ed., Letters of Benjamin Rush, 2 vols. (Princeton, 1951), I, 221–22. Reflecting on his experiences in London in 1768 and 1769, Rush decided “the ministry read history not to avoid blunders, but to adopt and imitate them.” See “Letters, Facts and Observations upon a variety of subjects,” Rush Manuscripts, Library Company of Philadelphia.
[1.]George Van Santvoord, Life of Algernon Sidney (N.Y., 1854), 333.
[2.]George Perkins Marsh, The Goths in New-England … (Middlebury, Vt., 1843), 13–14.
[3.]W. Stull Holt, ed., Historical Scholarship in the United States, 1876–1901 As Revealed in the Correspondence of Herbert B. Adams (Baltimore, 1938), 113–14.
[4.]Woodrow Wilson, “Democracy,” in Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History, 10 vols. (N.Y., 1902).
[5.]Rudolf Gneist, The English Parliament …, trans. Jenery Shee (London, 1886), 86.
[6.]See Julius W. Pratt, The Expansionists of 1898 … (Baltimore, 1936), chap. 1, for a discussion of the views of Fiske, Burgess, and Strong. See also Edward N. Saveth, American Historians and European Immigrants, 1875–1925 (N.Y., 1948).
[7.]Josiah Strong, Our Country … (N.Y., 1885), 179, 174.
[8.]Sir Charles W. Dilke, Greater Britain … (London, 1869), v–vi.
[9.]Joseph Chamberlain, Foreign and Colonial Speeches (London, 1897), 6.
[10.]Finley Peter Dunne, Mr. Dooley in Peace and War (Boston, 1909), 54.
[11.]Houston Stewart Chamberlain, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (London, 1911); see Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History, 12 vols. (London, 1948–61), I, 207–71, for a study and discussion of racial and environmental factors in civilizations.
[12.]William Stubbs, Lectures on Early English History, ed. Arthur Hassall (London, 1906), 2–12.
[13.]Charles Petit-Dutaillis, Studies and Notes Supplementary to Stubbs’ Constitutional History (Manchester, 1908), xii–xiii.
[14.]Henry Adams, Essays in Anglo-Saxon Law (Boston, 1876), 1, 6.
[15.]Carl Stephenson, “The Problem of the Common Man in Early Medieval Europe,” American Historical Review 51 (1946): 419.
[16.]Frank M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford, Eng., 1947), 546. At the beginning of the twentieth century, H. Munro Chadwick conducted a scholarly analysis the findings of which were in direct contrast to those of Stubbs, Freeman, et al. See his Studies on Anglo-Saxon Institutions and The Origin of the English Nation (Cambridge, Eng., 1905, 1907).
[17.]George Burton Adams, The Origin of the English Constitution (New Haven, 1912), 3 n, 79, 185.
[18.]See, for example, H. R. Loyn, Anglo-Saxon England and the Norman Conquest (London, 1962), chap. 1.
[19.]See William Sharp McKechnie, Magna Carta, A Commentary on the Great Charter of King John … , 2d ed. (Glasgow, 1914); Max Radin, “The Myth of Magna Carta,” Harvard Law Review 60 (1947): 1060–91; S. B. Chrimes, English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge, Eng., 1936), xvii.
[20.]Carl Stephenson, Medieval History … (N.Y., 1955), 556.
[21.]Faith Thompson, Magna Carta, 375.
[22.]Butterfield, Englishman and His History, 7.
[1.]This item was not Stuart’s but the anonymously published essay now ascribed to Obadiah Hulme. It was a similar error—in favor of Allan Ramsay—which attracted sufficient notice at Columbia, later, to be copied generally.
[2.]This initial catalogue no longer exists, and the following historical selection is drawn from the compilation by Edwin Wolf 2nd. Catalogues were published in 1735, 1741, 1746, 1757, 1764, 1770, and 1775.
[3.]The Adams books are mainly distributed among three repositories: the Stone Library back of the Adams mansion at Quincy; the Boston Athenaeum; most are at the Boston Public Library. The BPL issued a catalogue of its holdings of Adams books in 1917; in 1938 Henry Adams and Worthington C. Ford issued A Catalogue of the Books of John Quincy Adams Deposited in the Boston Athenaeum, which identified the books of John Adams and indicates when they have his marginal comments. It would seem that several of the following works were in Adams’s hands in the 1770s and 1780s, and he failed to list them in his 1790 catalogue.
[4.]The entire collection that made up Jefferson’s enormous second library is expertly catalogued in E. Millicent Sowerby, ed., The Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 5 vols.