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Bernhard Knollenberg on the Belief of many colonial Americans that Liberty was lost because the Leaders of the People had failed in their Duty (2003)

In his magisterial history of the American Revolution, Bernhard Knollenberg remarks upon the problems facing the Continental Congress in September 1774:

One of the points particularly stressed in the writings in defense of liberty was that liberty, once enjoyed but lost, had commonly been lost because leaders of the people, who ought to have taken timely action to preserve it, had failed in their duty.

As brought out in the admirable studies of Clinton Rossiter, Caroline Robbins, H. Trevor Colbourn, Bernard Bailyn, and others, one of the powerful forces in unifying colonial sentiment was invocation of the writings of classical authors and earlier English writers in praise or defense of liberty. These were known to the reading public throughout the colonies at first hand or through the heavy borrowing from them in current pamphlets, newspapers, sermons, and almanacs. (The meager colonial stage apparently did not contribute significantly toward arousing and unifying the colonists in opposing the British threat to colonial liberty. But Addison’s popular play, Cato, evidently did. Patriotic songs also were a contributing influence.)

One of the points particularly stressed in the writings in defense of liberty was that liberty, once enjoyed but lost, had commonly been lost because leaders of the people, who ought to have taken timely action to preserve it, had failed in their duty. Would not the history of lost liberties repeat itself if the Congress, to whom the people of America now looked for the preservation of their liberty, failed to unite in taking effective action to this end?

But what should this action be? Here was the rub.

About this Quotation:

Unfortunately this book is no longer available online at the OLL website for reasons of copyright. Nevertheless, Knollenberg’s 2 volume history of the American Revolution is a classic which is still available in book form from Liberty Fund.

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